What strong women leaders mean to PR’s future pros

For the next generation of communicators, female initiative and mentorship has made all the difference.

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Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a collaboration with the Public Relations Student Society of America.

With International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month taking place in March, the role of women in communications leadership is a hot topic, especially among Gen-Zers.

Why? Because this is the future of our workplace.

The communications industry was ahead of its time in employing female practitioners.

These women are managing award-winning agencies, holding leadership positions throughout the field and have started trendsetting organizations of their own.

For PR students and young professionals, women have been integral to their professional experiences. Now, more than ever, these young practitioners are guided by strong female leaders, mentors, managers and role models.

PR’s next generation is not only accustomed to following the lead of influential women—it is their norm.

Navigating the journey

As a future female leader in PR, Ashleigh Kathryn—PRSSA’s immediate past president—looks to her counterparts in the industry for inspiration and guidance on navigating the PR industry as a woman.

“I aspire to be an influential woman leader in the industry, as do many of my peers. This has always been my dream, but the journey to get there is a bit fuzzier. There are still factors at play including unconscious bias, work-life fit and equal pay, among other potential obstacles,”  Kathryn says.

Mind The Gap: Women’s Leadership in Public Relations,” a study from the Institute of Public Relations and KPMG, reports that sexism continues to persist in the PR workplace, specifically in the C-suite.

Other findings from the study include the double standard of leadership styles for men and women, as well as a difference in discrimination and cultivation of “gendered experiences” among leaders.

These findings, which have been reported across many industries, are even more disconcerting when it comes to underrepresented communities, and have shaped Gen-Z and Millennial behaviors and beliefs.

“Although I do not represent my generation solely, I am optimistic about the future,” says Kathryn, whose experiences with female leaders and mentors have helped her navigate the barriers she’s encountered along her journey.

“There are valuable lessons to learn from male leaders, but for myself and many other young female practitioners, it is an incredible experience to learn from someone who shares similar experiences. Diversity in leadership is key to young professionals.”

Women making a mark

What do these incredible experiences with influential women leaders look like?

“For me, one of these moments took place in a discussion-based lunch when I was taught the value of an entrepreneurial spirit or growth mindset,” says Kathryn. “It’s also the moment when a mentor shared transparently that a work-life balance should be replaced with a work-life harmony or fit, especially when prioritizing personal and professional obligations.”

These dynamic women practitioners are bold and strategic. They are collaborative and competitive. They are compassionate and direct. They are shaping the next generation to bring these traits to the workplace. In short, they are what it means to be an influential leader in the industry.

“We need to spotlight these women leaders, even beyond this special day and month, because they are key to our evolving industry,” says Kathryn. “We have more generations than ever working together in the same workforce. Diverse leadership is needed to represent all these perspectives. And better yet, represent our target audiences.”

How have you been influenced by strong female leaders in the industry? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments.

Ashleigh Kathryn is a graduate student at the University of Florida. She is the 2019-2020 PRSSA Immediate Past President and a Professional Intern with The Walt Disney Company. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Joe Dunay is a student Ohio Northern University getting a B.A. in Public Relations and Communications Studies. He serves PRSSA National as the vice president of professional development. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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