Sunday, October 3, 2010

I am man, hear me roar

It wasn't until I'd spent a couple of years working in public relations that I realized just how few men, relatively speaking, work in the field. I've found myself at PRSA events at which I'm one of only one or two men in the room.

Turns out that approximately 70 percent of PR professionals are women, according to this interview by Mark Ragan of three female PR execs. If you cue the video up to about 10:30, Ragan discusses this issue with his guests, one of whom attributes the imbalance to cultural factors while the others actually say that women are better suited to the profession because they are better multi-taskers, more detail-oriented and more organized.

OK, as a man, I have few reasons in my life to ever feel aggrieved, but I have to cop to being a little insulted. I'm not detail-oriented? Can't multi-task? Not organized? OK, those of you who have seen my desk might concur with the latter, but I think that when it comes to developing and executing communication strategies, I pay plenty of attention to details, and my organizational skills have, I dare say, improved steadily during the course of my career.  And don't talk to me about multi-tasking. Spend a day with me and you'll see what I have to pull off.

But more importantly, is public relations the only field where those traits are important? I can think of plenty of male-dominated professions where those skills are vital. Don't engineers have to be rather detail-orientated? I'm guessing physicians have to multi-task, and they can't rely on their nurses and receptionists for everything. Imagine if a man had said that his field was dominated by men because women just aren't as good at the things that are important for success.

I suspect that culture plays a role. As one of Ragan's interviewees notes, it's a field that is acceptable for women in a society that still tries to funnel them into so-called "soft" disciplines. And I'm guessing that it's perceived as a feminine profession in part because women are thought of as better communicators than men, a stereotype that may be true when it comes to interpersonal relationships. But that isn't the same as communicating in a professional setting, and for a strategic purpose. I don't think either gender has an advantage over the other on that score.

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