For the sake of the industry, for diversity and my sanity, we need to kill the PR Girl.

‘Market research’ this week saw me trawling the sites of various PR, marketing and communication agencies selling their services to legal and financial sectors.

After the third such site, I noticed a curious thing.

A visit to the staff pages proved to be uncomfortable viewing for me – a white, young(ish!) woman. The faces staring back at me were, in the main all the same. They were me…

A sea of young, white women, often (but not always) with a sprinkling of senior white males.

This was jarring for two reasons.

1. Firstly, and selfishly I thought, ‘well that’s great, I must come across as just another PR girl’

Then after mentalling slapping myself I thought about how I might react if I wasn’t the face looking back at me.

2. What if I was a different gender or race? What if I wasn’t British? Or what if I were disabled?

What, if in looking at these women I had little to relate to other than an ambition?

The fact is, I have no idea how I’d react. How could I?

As bland as a bad Pinot

I’ve recently started reading ‘Why I am no longer talking to white people about race’, by Reni Eddo-Lodge. This isn’t a review of that title, though I will say, it’s proving a thought-provoking and, I believe a necessary read.

What it has cemented in my mind, is the fact that I cannot put myself in the shoes of someone for whom the world is experienced very differently through no other reason than by their natural qualities. By which, I mean – I can’t really know what the experience of a career in PR is like for a young black woman, or indeed an older white man. I can imagine, but I don’t really understand.

My experience in this industry is of being a young, white, female – otherwise known the ‘PR Girl’ (and, when you reach a certain age, the ‘PR Lady’). It seems we pervade…

The PR Girl can be described as a pervasive stereotype of what a ‘PR’ looks like, and to some extent how they act. The PR Girl is generally:

  • White
  • Female
  • Middle class
  • Conventionally ‘attractive’/’presented’
  • Drinks white wine

I don’t need convincing that this is bull (though I do indeed like white wine). I know many talented PRs who don’t fit this mould – but I challenge those out of the industry to picture a ‘PR’ and not conjure an image similar to the above.

That’s why I cringe when I have (and still am) introduced or described as the ‘PR lady’ or ‘PR girl.’ And, it’s with shame I admit I have referred to myself and others as such as well.

It’s not often I hear, “please meet Trevor, our legal boy”. Or, “contact Gem, our CEO girl”.

This ‘PR Girl’ stereotype only serves to kill dreams of true diversity. It also infantilises and patronises female PR professionals. It imagines that women in PR are of a certain background, certain persona and lack credibility.

It might be one of the reasons why those who grace leadership roles in PR are more often than not, men.

Why white girls want diversity too

I recently read an opinion piece by Francis Ingham, PRCA’s (Public Relations & Communication Association) Director General, We all need to tackle diversity in PR in ‘defining yearIt’s with a certain irony that the picture that will greet you on opening this link is of a middle-aged white man. That’s not a judgement or comment of his dedication to the cause… but, well…. hmmmm, awkward….

“The PR Census in 2016 shed light on the state of diversity in the industry.

The workforce is  91 per cent white and  83 per cent British;  women comprise 64 per cent of the industry, and the average gender pay gap is £9,111.

Only  two per cent of PR and comms practitioners  consider themselves to have a disability.”

This is massively depressing.

No one benefits from a lack of diversity.

At its most simple, being surrounded by people just like you is boring. Creativity flourishes where different experiences can come together to find novel solutions. As communications professionals we are talking to diverse audiences, but it seems we are overwhelming white and able-bodied.

Stereotypes of who and what a PR is damages everyone.

For those who fit the stereotype, they may have the job but are one among a sea of same. They may suffer from PR Girl syndrome – stuck as the do-er and never the leader, and lacking confidence that they are taken seriously.

I’ve felt this.

And, more worrying are those who would never see themselves in a PR role because they feel they don’t belong. That they don’t fit on that staff page.

The only way I feel I can make is difference is to kill the PR Girl. As such, I promise:

  • Never to again refer to myself or others as the ‘PR Girl’
  • Tactfully challenge those who use the phrase
  • Where I have the opportunity, to support initiatives that champion diversity and support industry colleagues to succeed

We are not all in the position to offer jobs, training or funds. But, if there’s one thing we can collectively do, it’s to kill the stereotype. Kill the PR Girl.