Thursday, March 15, 2012

Where are all the men of your village?

Another ode to the RepMan in this post, but he deserves it for his willingness to tackle an uncomfortable issue: the dearth of men in public relations.

If leadership of The Arthur W. Page Society, the PRSA and The Council of PR Firms were less concerned about ‘earning a seat at the table’ today and more focused on building a balanced profession in the future, we’d see some meaningful education programs being put in place. These efforts would be widespread, aimed at high school boys and would shine the spotlight on the great careers being carved out by the few young men who do populate our ranks today.

Instead, as their forefathers did when race and gender discrimination ran amok in the 1960s and ‘70’s, today’s industry leaders are turning a blind eye on a trend that will one day soon result in an industry that is 90 percent female. And, what’s wrong with that you ask? Easy. If we don’t represent the increasingly diverse population our public and private sector clients are trying to reach, how can we possibly create a strategic communications solution?

You wouldn’t hire an old white man to publicize a fashion accessory for teenaged girls, would you? Well, marketers won’t hire all-female teams to market razor blades to blue-collar men either. In fact, I predict you’ll see more and more clients turn to more diverse professions such as advertising and branding in the future simply because they’re more balance from a race and gender standpoint.

It's hard to get people fired up about the lack of men in a profession that has historically been open to them and when, as a group, men have traditionally been privileged by society. (And when men still hold many positions of leadership in the industry.) We're more likely to turn our efforts, and rightly so, to knocking down barriers that were erected because of bigotry to keep women and minorities out of certain fields -- or most fields, for that matter. (And it's worth noting that RepMan thinks PR is too white as well as too female.)

But it does matter that there aren't enough men in public relations, both for those of us individual males who work in the field as well as the industry, and our clients, as a whole.

For one, the more women come to dominate public relations, the more likely that people will assume, as many do now, that women are innately more qualified for public relations. That's bad for men who want to work in the field, but also a bit patronizing to women given that the field is often viewed as a "soft" discipline.

Second, I've enjoyed a rewarding career in public relations during the nine years since I left journalism, and I'd hate for other men to deny themselves that opportunity because they think it is a feminine occupation, or because others assume they aren't as talented as a woman. The same could be said of teaching and nursing, and other fields in which women, because they had so few other opportunities, came to dominate.

Finally, as the RepMan notes, we are doing ourselves a disservice as an industry, and on behalf of our clients, by alienating half the potential talent pool. Diversity after all is not just about being fair to all groups but it is also grounded in the belief that a variety of viewpoints are needed to solve problems and develop new ideas.

In short, the reasons to make men feel more welcome in PR are the same reasons we have opened to women all the fields that once were closed to them. There may be far, far greater injustices in the world, but that doesn't mean we need to turn a blind eye to it.

No comments: