Gini Dietrich

In a Female-dominated Industry, Women are Not Represented

By: Gini Dietrich | June 15, 2017 | 

In a Female-dominated Industry, Women are Not RepresentedSeveral weeks ago, I was invited to participate on a panel at the Cision World Tour, Chicago kick-off.

I was excited about the event because:

  • It was in my hometown so I had to miss only a couple of billable hours (and I could be home in time for dinner);
  • I knew I could get the Spin Sucks message in front of hundreds of communicators;
  • There would be great conversation from which I could create content; and
  • I’m a big, big fan of Cision—their product, their vision, and their people.

As we got closer to the event, I realized I was the only female speaker on the docket.

Shocking, really.

Communications is a female-dominated industry and there are plenty of talented, high-profile women in Chicago who could have participated.

Instead they had male speakers for both the opening and closing keynotes, and I shared the panel with four men.

To be completely fair, our panel did have a female moderator, the PRSA Chicago president.

But, during the cocktail reception, I had several attendees (both men and women) say to me:

Why were you the only woman who spoke? Don’t we dominate this industry?

I know the feedback also made it to Cision because some said they had asked the Cision CEO the same question.

Women Not Represented in Female-dominated Industry

More recently, Cision released their Listen eBook authored by…

…you guessed it, five men!

The topic combines social relations and customer experience and all of those men are experts.

So are Jeannie Walters, Jeanne Bliss, and Annette Franz.

But not a single woman was represented in the eBook.

Again, in fairness, they published a blog post—Leaning in and Climbing Up: Cheers to Successful Women in PR—around the same time.

But, in the digital marketing and speaking worlds, an opening or closing keynote is greater than a panel; an eBook is greater than a blog post.

The communications industry is female-dominated (64 percent), yet we’re not represented in leadership roles, in content, or at conferences.

Three Issues with Men Telling Women to Speak Up

To make matters worse, PRWeek held their Hall of Femme event last week.

A panel made up of John BrockelmanRichard Edelman, Jim Weiss, and Tony Wells spoke about how women can be heard in macho cultures.

Richard Edelman spoke first about the challenge.

He said:

If women don’t feel their voices are being heard in the corporate world, they need to speak up more loudly.

It might sound “silly” to give adults the advice to “speak up,” but it is a “learned behavior” with which even professionals in their 40s struggle.

Edelman recalled that he recently asked women on his executive team why they are quiet during meetings. Their response: It is because of the room’s “macho culture.”

“I asked them, ‘How are we going to fix that? Either you’re going to speak up, or I’m going to have to hammer the guys,’” said Edelman. “They said, ‘Hammer the guys first,’ and I said, ‘You speak up first.’”

There are three issues at play here:

  1. The male leader of the world’s largest private PR firm won’t stand up for the women on his team by creating an equal culture;
  2. Four men spoke on a panel on advice for female communicator; and
  3. PR is female-dominated.

Because I want to be certain we’re completely fair throughout this conversation, the event did honor nine women.

But those women were not on the panel giving advice to other women about equality.

The Brand Persona is Not Represented in the Marketing

There is a gigantic disconnect between the people Cision and PRWeek serve—and the organizations’ content.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you are working on a communications program to build awareness for a new product.

Your number one brand persona is female, aged 28, with two kids.

She works, is highly motivated, spends a bit of her personal time sharpening her skills, and she travels some.

She is the decision influencer and she is the decision-maker.

If you wanted to get her attention and build trust with her:

  • Would you host a conference with only one female speaker?
  • Would you produce an eBook written by five men?
  • How about host a male-led panel discussion about women’s issues?

We all have to be smart about who our prospective customer is and how to market to them.

In communications, we absolutely should have conversations about equality and how to be heard in a macho culture.

But if we are to get where we need to be, the conversations, the content, the leadership all should be equal.

Both men and women should be represented.

I do want to hear how men think we can be heard in a macho culture—and I want to hear how women have done it.

We should take measures to make certain macho cultures no longer exist.

I want to hear how both men and women have done that.

It Starts at the Top

The Cision entire leadership team are men, except for their chief HR officer.

Richard Edelman should be embarrassed he’s leading a macho culture.

And, when asked to participate at conferences, on boards, in content, or any other professional endeavor, men should stand up and say, “Wait a second!”

Step up. Say something. Boycott, if you have to, and ask your peers to do the same.

It absolutely starts at the top.

If you want to work in or represent an industry made up of 64 percent women, the change has to start at the top.

With the leadership team. The culture. Speakers at conferences. Experts in content. And advice to other women.

There are lots of reasons men still dominate these things—which we could debate to death—but it’s up to all of us to make change.

Particularly in a female-dominated industry.

P.S. Later today, Sherrilynne Starkie is tackling the Hall of Femme event in a, let’s just say, interesting way. Tune back in for that!

image credit

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Julia Carcamo

    Gini, you know I work in the casino industry. Over half of the workforce is female, yet we’re under-represented in leadership roles. So, I feel this more than you know. I’ve been one of those women sitting in the conference room. Lucky for me I landed a role in a company where I was surrounded by really smart, strong women who always voiced their opinions. It prepared me to step into a leadership role at a company where they said they wanted my opinion (but only if it lined up with theirs). Eventually we had a management change and welcomed the only female CEO at a gaming company. Now, we (and some other great women) are part of an organization that is lighting the way for more women to step into leadership roles in the casino industry!

  • YES! “It absolutely starts at the top.”

    You can’t expect your company’s culture to change if you as a leader don’t make it clear you are open to change.

    It’s your company, you set the rhythm, no one else. Simple as that.

    • Aimee West

      Exactly! Corina. Ugg. his response of “you speak up first” is plain bull.

      • That makes me angry. The more I think about it, the more angry I get. The fact that he so nonchalantly told the story at the conference shows he thinks there is nothing wrong with it and it shows we still have a looooong way to go.

  • Liz Reusswig

    Three words…SPIN SUCKS CONFERENCE! 😉

    • Aimee West

      Love this idea! I would totally help organize it.

      • LOL! I know. I know. I’m being a weirdo about it. I’m afraid no one would show up.

        • Aimee West

          TRUST ME! We felt that same way with Lansing Beerfest and Beerfest at the Ballpark and now the events sell out. You just gotta do it.

          • But you had beer. BEER. Everyone shows up for beer.

          • Aimee West

            Sure, sure. People do show up for beer. But we get people who complain about beer. Now BH (I’m a Beer Hound) offers hard cider, spirits, and wine at most of the events. Plan a marketing event / talk at a brewery. Have a female speaker talk about the industry and then do a tasting and a tour. Lots of great craft breweries in every state/area. I know a few 😉

          • Kristen Knoerzer

            Love this idea! Would love to see more exciting and engaging conference/professional development opportunities in Chicago instead of east coast. Not every office has the budget for travel!

          • Aimee West

            Totally agree! Even though Chicago would be travel for me. Still only a car ride away… Michigan.

          • Travis Peterson

            Do both! Beer and PR. (or Wine)

        • Liz Reusswig

          JUST DO IT! You can count on at least some of us being there and I like @aimee_west:disqus’s example of including beer or wine, or hard cider…

          • Aimee West

            Thanks @liz_reusswig:disqus – Nothing like alcohol to bring people together. 🙂

          • You guys! LOL!!

          • Aimee West


        • Debbie Johnson

          Do it!! I would show up, and I bet many others would, too.

        • Karen Wilson

          I have retired from conference planning, but I would help you with this if you did it. I think it would be amazing!

        • I’d find a way to put it in my budget. Chicago is easy to get from DC (aka cheap flights). Just have a cool reception with beer & wine. Or an afternoon roundtable session with said beverages (or not). Interestingly, in the Hispanic marketing & ad world, women are generally more equal and lead divisions or their own agencies. They are definitely not afraid to speak up 🙂 We always had a good mix at our Think AHAA conferences.

        • Carlos Danger

          Your stalkers would show up and there are thousands of them. But us non-stalkers yeah no we would not show up. I am way to macho to come to a conference unless it was filled with very attractive ladies and daring men in pants suits.

    • Yes!

  • Agree this is an issue, especially in an industry that is female-dominated in terms of numbers. I just got back from speaking at IABC’s world conference and did some quick math. The general sessions were evenly split between male and female speakers (2 and 2). For the breakouts and panels, I counted 31 speaking slots for men and 37 for women.

    What I did notice was that in roundtable discussions where I was in a group with women, I was very aware of not dominating the proceedings, but I did find many women, especially younger ones, were quieter. I agree that the problem starts with men, and the culture needs to be changed, but also that young women need to be encouraged to find ways to elbow their way into conversations.

    I’ve always felt workplaces could benefit from being more “feminized” in terms of communication style — more listening, more support (vs. immediately shooting down ideas), more empathy and more relationship building. As opposed to telling women to take on the bad habits of men — dominating the conversation, filibustering, and hogging the physical space.

    • It makes me REALLY happy to hear how well balanced IABC was. And I really appreciate your last paragraph. We need a balance, all around.

  • Bill Dorman

    64%? I like those numbers….:).

    Spin Sucks conference and start boycotting some of the events where the presenters numbers are not representative of the members at large.

    Keep beating that drum and let the people who can make these decisions you are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!!!

  • Debbie Johnson

    How do we hold conference organizers accountable as well? How do we make sure that opportunities are being offered to women for participation?

    A friend of mine used to recruit guest speakers for our local PRSA chapter, and she complained about how difficult it was to find smart, interesting, quality speakers. She said she struggled where to look to find them.

    How do we make conference organizers aware of smart, talented women for these speaking opportunities?

    • Rand Fishkin called out Content Marketing World last year—and they responded very well. I think that’s what it takes…a continuing conversation about balancing out the speakers.

      I do know (to your friend’s point) it is difficult to find women who will do these things. I have conversations with my friends about it all the time. There are myriad reasons—small kids at home so they don’t want to travel, they’re not confident enough, imposter syndrome, not leaning in. We need to fix all of that, too.

      • Debbie Johnson

        While those reasons are valid and I’ve heard them many times, I also know a lot of PR professional women who would love the opportunity to speak at a conference or participate on a panel who aren’t being asked, simply because no one knows they exist or doesn’t think of them.

        How do they get discovered? How does someone find out about requests for proposals for conferences/panels so they can submit?

        • You know, maybe I’ll write a blog post about where to find the requests, the deadlines, and what makes a great speaker’s proposal.

          • Debbie Johnson

            I would love that

  • Travis Peterson

    That’s a total cop-out from Edelman. A good manager or CEO recognizes the personal and cultural dynamics of his/her team, and manages around those. So, if the women aren’t speaking up because the guys are loud and macho, it’s the CEO responsibility to engage the women in the meetings. “Susan, what do you think?” “Shannon, you’ve been quiet during this discussion, I’d like to hear from you.”

    That way the CEO is leveling the playing field himself/herself, not putting the team in a position to compete with each other.

    Also, the broader problem is, in this case, that CEO isn’t getting the full benefit of his team, by NOT engaging them to speak and share their thoughts. So he’s currently only getting half of the brainpower available to him. NOT effective.

    And don’t get me started on Cision. Great product, I love my sales rep but the Account Manager was a total @$$ when I didn’t make a payment during my wife’s cancer treatment. (yeah, cancer!).

    Their E-book, conference, and the PRWeek panel is just stupid marketing. It’s like trying to market fur coats to people in south Florida. Just dumb.

    Stepping off my soapbox…..

    • And not making the responsibility that of the gender that is being quieted in a macho culture. I’m surprised he talked about that situation on a panel. It tells me he just doesn’t know it’s a problem and that he’s culpable.

      But wait…you don’t want a fur coat?

    • Debbie Johnson

      I shared this post and the womansplaining post on Twitter. A woman responded to my share of the womansplaining post by sharing some statistics from Edelman’s outreach and recruitment efforts. It’s called GWEN (Global Women’s Executive Network).

      While I applaud the effort, it doesn’t excuse his comments during this panel. I also wasn’t terribly impressed with the statistics, either.

      • I agree with you. The thing that bothers me most is how nonchalantly he told that story, which tells me he doesn’t think there is anything wrong with it. It’s not the job of the women to speak up. It’s the job of the leader—male or female—to create a culture that allows for balanced conversation.

        To Travis’s point… it’s the CEO responsibility to engage the women in the meetings. “Susan, what do you think?” “Shannon, you’ve been quiet during this discussion, I’d like to hear from you.”

        • Debbie Johnson

          Agreed on both points. And the fact that people are quick to respond with “hey, did you see these Edelman stats” while ignoring what happened on the panel says that the problem goes beyond him. But it is his job to create the culture.

  • Travis Peterson

    So is it out of line for me to boycott PRWeek? Cision has a virtual monopoly so a boycott doesn’t make sense but I’m fine giving them unmitigated social media and email grief at every opportunity.

    Basically, it’s the #DisdainForDumbMarketing campaign.


    • I’d really love to see a response from them and hear their side of the story before there is a boycott.

  • Howie Goldfarb

    I obviously could say a lot right now. But I figure I will just go direct to his freaking neck and rip his macho face off. Because there is no industry more Macho than PR. I can not believe Dick Edeleman said that. Just curious about all these ex-College Linebackers and Pig Males he is hiring these days because if that is who he is hiring as executives then I might agree with him…..but this is the guy who green lights money sucking projects for clients pitching the fad of the month that he knows will be a flop after the money is deposited in his account.

    Maybe the reason the Ladies don’t speak up is because Dick is a total Dick in the meetings?

    ‘Hi Jackie, I notice you are always quiet in the meetings any reason why?’

    ‘Well Dick, may I be perfectly honest? Well you are a complete Dick in the meetings and the last thing I want to do is have them last even half a second longer by indulging you in fake patronistic droll banter possibly extending the torture it is to be around you. Dick.’

    I am not belittling PR nor trying to offend anyone in PR who totally feels macho. But for this guy to simplify down why women do most of the lifting yet get passed over for promotions by him….as it must be the macho atmostphere….is suffering from severe dementia or is just a total Dick.

  • Alaina Shearer

    Gini, have you heard about our new group, Women in Digital? I think you’ll enjoy our Annual Conference. And please join our Chicago Chapter. At most of our events – no men are allowed – and at our national conference, only 4% of tickets will go to men – the # representing the % of women CEO’s at Fortune 500 Companies. So, that will be 36 men out of 900 women in attendance. More here:

  • This evokes several memories of numerous conference panels I’ve listened to where it was 4 men +1 woman, or 3 men + 1 woman, etc. When thinking about the reverse, the only time I experienced that was at a fashion business conference last year.

    I have to say #TAP2017, a mobile business conference, was great at putting together balanced panels. But timely data we can find on gender still says a lot:

    • It’s not entirely fair for us to say it has to be balanced when women don’t make up half of all speakers in our industry. But we still have to do better. Women have to do a better job of promoting themselves and getting out there. And conference organizers have to do a better job of balancing the speakers.