Paradox of Power? Women successfully wear many hats in PR, yet miss C-Suite

Paradox of Power? Women successfully wear many hats in PR, yet miss C-Suite

By Ramakant Chaudhary

“If a young man tells his date how handsome, smart and successful he is — that’s advertising. If the young man tells his date she’s intelligent, looks lovely, and is a great conversationalist, he’s saying the right things to the right person and that’s marketing. If someone else tells the young woman how handsome, smart and successful her date is – that’s PR.” S.H. Simmons’ insightful quote perfectly captures the essence of Public Relations (PR) – it’s about building relationships and drumming up fascinating narratives that strike a chord with audiences. This is not a cake walk, rather it demands high emotional intelligence. It is worth asking who possesses greater emotional intelligence. A common perception, though I do not mean to perpetuate gender bias, suggests that women are more emotionally intelligent than men.

In PR, empathy plays a crucial role, and women, with their higher emotional quotient, naturally prosper in this profession. Demonstrating empathy, as industry experts opine, enables PR professionals to wade through complex situations with sensitivity, building bridges with stakeholders to achieve their communication goals. Women commonly possess an innate ability to understand the needs and emotions of their clients, qualifying them to stitch their strategies and messaging effectively. Moreover, storytelling, a cornerstone of PR, requires a delicate balance of creativity and authenticity – qualities that women often excel in. Unsurprisingly, the PR sector is a bastion of female talent, with women constituting a staggering 89% of the global workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, a concerning paradox emerges when we dig deeper of the situation. While women dominate the PR industry, their representation in leadership positions remains woefully inadequate. A report by the Institute for Public Relations reveals that only 30% of top PR agency leadership roles are held by women. This jarring disparity highlights a crucial question: Why are women excelling in the field, yet facing roadblocks to reaching the C-suite? This underrepresentation is not a reflection of women’s capabilities but rather a systemic issue rooted in biases and structural barriers.

This disparity is not unique to the PR industry. India, a nation that boasts a woman president, a woman finance minister, women SEBI chief, and women playing pivotal roles in space missions, including the successful launch of Chandrayaan 3 and Aditya-L1, also grapples with this gap. Despite reservation policies mandating one-third representation in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies, women’s presence in the C-suite remains abysmally low.

Data from Deloitte’s Global Women In Boardroom Study paints a stark picture: Despite a 2.8% increase in the past five years, women still hold only 19.7% of board seats globally, with an even smaller number in leadership roles. Only 6.7% of board chairs and a mere 5% of CEOs are women. Interestingly, companies with female CEOs have significantly more gender diversity on their boards, with 33.5% of board seats held by women compared to 19.4% for companies led by male CEOs. This suggests a potential link between female leadership and fostering greater gender diversity at the board level.

A study by the CFA Institute analyzing the FY22 Business Responsibility and Sustainability Reporting (BRSR) disclosures of 134 Indian companies revealed a stark gap between women’s representation at the employee level and in key management positions. The IT sector, in particular, suffers from a wide chasm of 18.7 percentage points between women’s representation in the workforce and at the level of key management personnel (KMP). Despite India producing the world’s highest number of female STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) graduates every year, many women face obstacles in pursuing and advancing their careers in STEM fields due to various challenges, including unconscious biases and lack of equal opportunities.

“Women have the power to turbocharge the sputtering global economy,” said Indermit Gill, Chief Economist of the World Bank Group and Senior Vice President for Development Economics. “Yet, all over the world, discriminatory laws and practices prevent women from working or starting businesses on an equal footing with men. Closing this gap could raise global gross domestic product by more than 20% – essentially doubling the global growth rate over the next decade—but reforms have slowed to a crawl. WBL 2024 identifies what governments can do to accelerate progress toward gender equality in business and the law.” (published by

 Experts attribute this disparity to a myriad of factors, including unconscious biases, discriminatory practices, and a lack of supportive policies and initiatives in the workplace. Many brilliant mid-career women technologists and leaders are forced to exit the workforce prematurely due to these unfair practices, depriving organizations of valuable talent and diversity of thought.

Addressing the gender gap in corporate leadership requires a concerted effort from both organizations and society as a whole. Companies must prioritize diversity and inclusion initiatives. They must implement policies that promote gender equality, and create a supportive work environment where women can prosper and advance in their careers. Additionally, raising awareness about unconscious biases and providing mentorship and sponsorship opportunities for women can help bridge the gap and pave the way for a more equitable future.

Bridging the gender gap in the workplace necessitates a multi-pronged approach. Firstly, unconscious bias training can sensitize individuals and organizations to identify and dismantle implicit prejudices that act as roadblocks to women’s advancement. Secondly, gender-neutral policies should be implemented, ensuring equal opportunities in all aspects of work, from recruitment and promotion to compensation and recognition. Additionally, support systems like flexible work arrangements, childcare facilities, and mentorship programs can empower women to navigate the work-life balance effectively. Finally, celebrating success stories of female leaders will inspire future generations and showcase the vast potential women bring to the table. By adopting these combined strategies, we can pave the way for a more equitable and inclusive work environment for all.

The narrative of women in Public Relations exemplifies the paradox of power. While they dominate the profession, their ascent to leadership roles remains hindered by systemic barriers. By spurring a culture of inclusion and dismantling ingrained biases, we can ensure that the brilliance and talent of women are not only recognized but also maximally utilized across all levels, not just in PR, but in all sectors of society. By creating a level playing field and providing the necessary support systems, we can lay the groundwork for a future where women’s voices are heard loud and clear not just in making narratives, but also in shaping the course of businesses and nations.

Ramakant Chaudhary is senior journalist and currently working with PRP Group as Content Head. He has worked in various editorial roles with Financial Express, Mint (Hindustan Times Group), The Times Of India, Jagran Post (Dainik Jagran Group), The Pioneer, and The Political and Business Daily. He writes on politics, government policy, economy, infrastructure, real estate, social issues, lifestyle, and health


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