During a lecture in my PR class last year, I looked around at all the female students I’d come to know and love. And then I realized there was only one male in my class.
I asked my professors why this was the case—why PR classes are so popular among women and not among men. Professors said their male student enrollment has either remained flat as the number of female students increases or, in fact, declined in the past decade.
Steve Manuel has been teaching public relations, crisis communications, and photojournalism for more than 15 years at the university. He noted a steady rise in the number of female students in his classes. The percentage of students that are female, he added, is about 85 percent. Manuel attributed the increase to several reasons, among them that the public relations field is less intriguing to men than other fields.
“PR is more of a conservative field, while advertising is more relaxed,” Manuel observed. He believes men are more attracted to the casual advertising environment than the fast-paced PR world.
Manuel said that having taught for so long, he sees clear differences between the sexes. “Women are seen as more sensitive, more approachable, and as being better listeners than men,” he said.
Manuel also brings up the paradox that men continue to dominate in the upper echelons of PR. It seems the glass ceiling is still in place. More women are reaching the top tiers, but there is still significant salary inequality between the sexes.
“While there are more women in the field than men, it doesn't feel that way to me, because men are in the top rungs of the industry,” Manuel adds.
Ann Major, a former PR pro turned professor, also says the number of male students in her class has decreased during her 30-year teaching career.
“During the last few years, only one or two males are enrolled in my senior-level courses, and I taught a class last fall with all-female enrollment,” Major said. “When I started teaching at Penn State in 1995, typically 30 percent of the students enrolled in my classes were male.”
She attributed the proportional decline of male students in part to the rising number of women enrolling in colleges nationally. Because more women are attending college, the number—and percentage—of female PR students increases.
Major echoed Manuel’s observation about the lack of women in upper management in PR.
“Women are prevalent in the profession at entry-level and junior-level positions,” Major said. “However, from mid-level to upper-level management positions, men still dominate the profession. There are few women who have become CEOs like Shelly Lazarus at Ogilvy.”
Alexis Morgan is a news, sports, and entertainment reporter who holds four degrees from Penn State University and Columbia University concentrating in broadcast journalism. Follow Alexis’s career on her website.
A version of this story first ran on PR Daily in February 2012.