Are women in PR being exploited?


New research suggests that women who go into the PR industry can go expect a starting salary of $6,000 less than their male counterparts. Industry bodies need to act, argues publicist Elly Michelle Clough.

According to new figures from Graduate Careers Australia, the public relations industry holds the dubious honour of having the highest gender wage disparity of any industry.

Source: Graduate Careers

Source: Graduate Careers

Their analysis of the gender wage gap in the Australian graduate labour market showed that female graduates earn an average starting salary of $46,300, compared to the male average of $52,300 – a variance of more than ten per cent. In an industry so dominated by women this is doubly alarming.

I contacted the author of the study, Edwina Lindsey, for clarification around the figure. While she was clear the sample size was not statistically significant – it covered 69 female PR graduates and just 16 male – she suggested that the figure could flag concern for young women in PR, but that further research using a larger sample size would be required.

I remain concerned. 80 per cent of PR graduates are women. The indication that these women may not be valued as highly as their male counterparts reflects extremely poorly on the public relations industry, and echoes similar concerns I have previously flagged across the marketing and communications industry.

PRIA boss Shaw: Unconcerned

PRIA boss Shaw: Unconcerned

I would have thought that these figures would cause concern, even alarm for the
Public Relations Institute of Australia. However in comments published in industry publication Influencing, PRIA’s new CEO Ray Shaw seemed largely unconcerned by the figure.

“Obviously with such a high proportion of women working in PR, it means men can ask for slightly higher salaries, particularly if they’re willing to work outside of the metropolitan centres,” Shaw said.

I strongly disagree with Shaw’s statement. It is in no way obvious to me that male graduates deserve a higher salary simply by virtue of there being fewer men in the industry. And the results of the study do not support his suggestion either.

Nursing and Primary teaching, which are both 90 per cent female at the graduate level, had a gender wage disparity almost half that of the PR industry.

Stuart Gregor

PRC chairman Gregor: Sceptical

Stuart Gregor of the PR Council expressed shock and dismay when I spoke to him about this report. He was also sceptical about the findings as he felt it didn’t match with his experience in the industry.

I put to him the suggestion that the disparity could be a case of supply and demand and that perhaps men were being offered higher salaries because there are fewer of them. He condemned that notion. “I have 30 staff,” he said. “I pay them based on their ability, male, female or anything in between.”

Further in Ray Shaw’s comments to Influencing he said ‘I have not seen any evidence of wage discrimination in PRIA’s registered consultancies. We definitely
want to ensure that every employee is treated equally and remind businesses of
the legislation supporting employees’ rights.’ I support this comment.

I hope we can trust his sincerity in making it following his earlier comment that it’s obvious that male graduates could seek a higher salary.

This research flags what could be a serious problem for our industry. I would like to see urgent research undertaken to check these results against a larger sample size. I call on the PRIA and the PR Council to work together to undertake this research. This is a pressing issue that our industry bodies need to address swiftly if they are to adequately represent the 80% of female graduates entering the industry.

In researching this article it was hard not to be struck that while looking into gender inequality in an industry that is 80% female, the leaders of our two representative bodies are both men.

If we are accepting significant inequality at the entry level, is it any surprise that this is reflected in the industry’s leadership?

Elly Michelle Clough is the publicist at Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney and tweets as @ellymc


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