With all the talk about the gender gap in business, it may come as no surprise that fewer women are filling leadership positions in the public relations industry than men. Despite the fact that women represent two-thirds of the PR industry worldwide, men occupy nearly 80 percent of CEO positions and more than 60 percent of boardroom seats.
These kinds of numbers are discouraging, but we can’t give up now. Closing the gender gap is only possible if we reflect, work hard, and keep speaking up.
I’ve taken so much inspiration from the following four women and used the lessons they taught me to inform my own professional choices. Whether they rose to leadership positions or had leadership thrust upon them, all of them made the choice to flex their strengths and raise others up in the process. They’ve sparked movements, inspired change, and shown resilience in the face of adversity. Here’s what they can teach women in PR.
1. Michelle Obama teaches us to stay composed under the microscope.
PR is about maintaining composure under scrutiny, something that comes with the territory when you’re the first lady. While millions of people count on her to make a difference, millions of others are waiting in the wings — ready to criticize. Few people have handled the pressure better than Michelle Obama. She’s a great example of how to stay afloat when others are trying to drag you down.
She communicates with grace and ease but makes her message clear. Easily one of the most iconic women of our time, she’s become an advocate for young women and doesn’t stand down when she needs to be heard.
2. Rose Marcario teaches us to stand by our morals, especially in the face of opposition.
As the CEO of Patagonia, Rose Marcario has guided the company through controversial times, making it the first commercial brand to publicly endorse a political candidate. The company even filed a lawsuit in an effort to protect a national monument in Utah. Marcario herself spoke out against hefty corporate tax cuts, and she put further weight behind her words by donating the money Patagonia saved to groups committed to protecting our planet.
Patagonia makes risky moves that could potentially alienate customers who disagree, but Marcario has been vocal about her morals, and she sticks to them no matter what.
3. Indra Nooyi teaches us the strongest leaders are master relationship builders.
When it comes to relationship-building, we can learn a lot from Indra Nooyi. Each year of her 12-year tenure at PepsiCo, the former CEO would write more than 400 letters to the parents of her senior executives, thanking them for their children. If that’s not a CEO building strong relationships, then I don’t know what is.
More than that, though, Nooyi understands the long-term power of having people in your corner. I found one quote from her especially powerful: “If you only want people to help you when you need them and not have an ongoing relationship with them, they don’t know you, they don’t know where you come from, and they are doubtful whether you really are interested in the issue, or are you just trying to skate over a current problem?”
4. Maya Angelou teaches us that life isn’t about money — but about doing what we love.
Poet, singer, author, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou has been an incredible source of motivation for me in my own life. While I’ve been moved by so many of her musings, her thoughts on money and finding joy resonate with me. “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love,” said Angelou. “Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”
Our modern society seems to revolve around money, but Angelou teaches us to pause, reflect on our goals, and ensure that they’re rooted in passions that will feed our souls.
As women, we have accomplished so much over the past century, but we still have work to do. If we continue to work together, stand with grace, and communicate with integrity, we can begin to make PR a model industry for closing the gender gap.
Sarah Clark is the CEO of Mitchell, the flagship PR agency of the Dentsu Aegis Network. Mitchell creates real connections between businesses, brands, and people through strategic insights, customized conversations, and consumer engagement.