If you've ever worked with a PR professional, chances are she was a woman. Sure, there are plenty of men in the industry, but for the most part it's a profession that is dominated by women. Public relations is an industry that is inclusive of women at every level - except for the very top.
The world's biggest PR agencies are most guilty of this imbalance. This reality was put back into focus with the recent elevation of Karen van Bergen from CEO of Porter Novelli to chief executive of the newly formed Omnicom Public Relations Group. This leaves Donna Imperato at Cohn & Wolfe as the only female CEO among the largest firms.
Women hold approximately 70 percent of all PR jobs, and 59 percent of all PR managers are female, but only 30% of all global PR agencies are run by women. Why is there this discrepancy? How could the majority of positions be held by women, yet the leadership roles at the highest level have such lopsidedness? Wit.h International Women's Day coming up on Tuesday, March 8, now is the perfect time to take a look at these questions.
It's interesting to look at PR's flip side in the media, journalism. Gender is much more even in the press world, with reporters slightly more likely to be men, and editors to be women, but overall the news industry is about 51 percent female. Leadership roles for women in journalism seem to be much more reachable. The difference between journalism and PR is stark.
There's no good reason for this discrepancy. PR draws so many women to it because PR specialists need to listen to and empathize with their clients, work well in teams, and be fierce advocates. These skills are a natural fit for many women. These are also skills that make good managers and strong leaders.
Having women in leadership roles is also good business. A study by workplace-research group Catalyst took a look at 353 Fortune 500 companies and found that those with the highest representation of women in senior management teams had a higher return on equities and returns to shareholders-- by more than a third.
So, what can we do to create more opportunities for women to be PR leaders? Here are a few things that can be done:
• Add more women to boards: More women in the boardroom is good for the bottom line. The same Catalyst study found that greater numbers of women board directors have been found to correlate with higher return on sales, better stock growth, lower risk of insolvency and lower likelihood of financial restatement.
• Increase work flexibility: The work/life balance can be especially difficult for women because responsibilities for childcare and parent care often fall to them. Both men and women need to share these responsibilities more, but companies can offer employee benefits like flexible work schedules, telecommuting and paid maternity leave. Quite simply, try not to have a meeting at 7:30am.
• Eliminate Stereotypes: Though much progress has been made for women in the workforce, sexism is still an issue for many organizations. For instance, a study by Yale in 2012 showed that when a man speaks up he is considered powerful, but women are more likely to face criticism for speaking more than others.
• Promote Yourself: Women have to take up the mantle and fight for themselves to overcome obstacles. Possibly due to the point above, women tend to do less self-promotion than men. You are your best advocate, so don't be afraid to share your successes with your supervisors.
I'm proud of the role of women at my agency Ogilvy PR, part of Ogilvy & Mather, where action is being been taken at every level to end this imbalance. We are starting from a strong position. I sit alongside 8 other women on our new 17-strong company board created by Ogilvy PR Global CEO Stuart Smith. Women also account for 5 out of our 8 office heads in North America and 71% of our practice leads.
However we know there is much more to do. Worldwide CEO of Ogilvy & Mather John Seifert has created a "30 for 30" program - fast tracking successful female leaders, and creating opportunities for them to remain and grow at the agency. We have also included a segment on unconscious gender bias in our management training and have instituted a model for best practices for gender in the workplace.
Gender inclusive policies like these are first step, but their existence shows we still have a long way to go as an industry. However, the size of the challenge must not distract us from its importance. So let us all work together so that next year on International Women's Day, we can say we helped create even more opportunities for successful female leaders.
A version of this article originally appeared on Quartz.
This post is part of a blog series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8, 2016. A What's Working series, the posts address solutions tied to the United Nations' theme for International Women's Day this year: "Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality." To view all of the posts in the series, click here.