PR expert Kate Clark talks to workingwise.co.uk about Women in PR’s recent survey on gendered ageism and their campaign to increase positive role models.
Kate Clark from Women in PR talks to workingwise.co.uk about the need for more positive role models. It comes after Women in PR’s recent survey showed over 34% of women working in comms have experienced ageism in the workplace; over half of women under 50 admitted they didn’t see a future in the part of the industry they worked in; and 26% of the youngest group polled (18-34) said they expected to leave the industry altogether, with limited career opportunities to progress (42%) and a lack of visibility of women aged over 50 in inspirational senior leadership roles (44%) being the biggest causes, alongside the need for better work/life balance.
workingwise.co.uk: Were you surprised by the results from the Women in PR survey?
Kate: Sadly, we were not surprised by the numbers of women saying that they have either experienced ageism or don’t see a long term future in their comms role. It was disappointing to have our ‘hunch’ confirmed by our Women in PR survey – but important to put data behind what we are being told anecdotally is the landscape.
ww: How young are people noting the beginnings of ageist attitudes?
Kate: We understand that from the age of 40 onwards women report experiencing ageist attitudes. Over half (52%) of those under the age of 50 don’t see themselves working in the same part of the comms industry they currently work in when they reach 50. However, we did also get comments from younger women in their 30s who say they don’t see representation from older women in their workplace.
ww: What would you say the average age is in PR?
Kate: It’s difficult to be precise about this, but I’d say it is in the mid to late 30s. The issue is that senior roles for older women are less available.
ww: What do you observe in relation to where women who leave tend to go?
Kate: Our survey revealed that 13% predict they will move into an in-house role, whilst 8% would like to set up their own comms consultancy and 5% anticipate going freelance.
ww: Is any research being done on why they leave, as far as you know?
Kate: Other than our research we are not aware of any. Our survey did ask why – and of those thinking they will move to a different part of the comms industry by 50, seven in ten (71%) said it would give them a better work life balance, a figure that increased to 88% among those currently working agency side.
ww: Has Covid had any particular impact on this?
Kate: Again, anecdotally, I’d say yes. We know that in other industries, many women were hit hardest by the pandemic as they took the brunt of juggling home schooling, their job – and then housework too! It has been reported that in the academic sphere that female professors published fewer research papers during the pandemic than their male counterparts. We know that women across many professions felt the squeeze. And then we have also seen a cull of a number of senior and mid-level older women in PR being made redundant as company budgets have been cut.
ww: Is awareness growing of ageism in the industry?
Kate: I think there is awareness of ageism, especially as a number of older women now find themselves out of work and struggling to pick up new positions. The issue for senior older women in particular is that they come out of employment with specific high level skills and might not find it easy to take on more hands-on roles.
ww: Are employers doing anything?
Kate: There is growing awareness of the issue, but more needs to be done. That’s why Women in PR conducted our ageism survey and we are now launching our inaugural ‘WPR 45 Over 45 List’.
ww: How important are role models and what WPR is doing?
Kate: The value of role models is crucial in most workplaces. We all know that we learn the real job through working side-by-side with those who have more experience and being guided by talented older colleagues. The same absolutely applies to the PR industry. At Women in PR we are trying to raise awareness of the issue to encourage employers to recognise ageism as discrimination and see the value of older employees – in terms of their experience and their position as role models.
ww: What was the reaction to your recent article on ageism in PR Week?
Kate: We received a lot of engagement from the article – and ALL of it in support of our drive to shine light on ageism in the PR industry. This is great in one way – but also shows that the problem is big and probably bigger than we all realised.
ww: Have you yourself experienced ageism within the industry?
Kate: Both during employment and when talking to future employers, I sensed their concern at staffing teams with older female employees. As budgets are cut, and junior staff are cheaper, some employers have looked at ways to cut the salary burden by selecting younger, less experienced staff. The issue of being too senior for a role – plus a lack of flexibility from an employer to see how an older person could take up a different position means they are risking a talent drain.
ww: What more can we do to address it if many employers still don’t take it seriously and employees say it can be subtle and about cultural norms rather than blatant examples?
Kate: Ageism in the workplace needs to be taken as seriously as the other areas of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion whose principles businesses are now becoming better at working towards. Through a ‘carrot and stick’ approach we can get there! We need to celebrate the great examples – and that’s what our WPR 45 Over 45 List will do. Then we need to flag the issues and offer guidance on how employers can do better – without it affecting their bottom line.