Today, the world is changing faster than ever, especially for women in public relations.
From emerging technologies that are helping level the playing field, to widespread social movements that are shining a light on exploitation, to opportunities that are rising from the dark clouds of the COVID-19 pandemic, recent years have fuelled significant structural changes for women working in public relations, marketing, and communications.
Of course, this isn’t to say challenges and inequalities don’t remain for women in the workforce, and sectors like public relations and communications are no exception. Women still suffer notable pay inequalities in the workforce, earning around 85% of what men earn in the United States and 87% in Canada. They also find it harder to win high-quality positions (women only make up around 20% of executive-level positions globally) and are still penalized for having children (first-time mothers see their incomes drop by as much as 30%).
There’s reason for optimism, however. The changes that are quickly transforming our world are giving women in public relations the tools they need to continue turning around some of these longstanding challenges and inequalities.
Trending to a Brighter Future
If you’re a woman working in public relations, marketing, or communications these are the game-changing trends you need to know for 2021 and beyond.
Standing Out Through Thought Leadership
With a little creativity and lots of determination, it’s possible to create a stable of thought leadership content with next to no overhead. In fact, most people have everything they need to pull it off using little more than their smartphone and an internet connection.
This ability isn’t a new trend by any means but the value of establishing oneself as a thought leader is growing year over year. This is even more true in the fields of public relations and marketing, where building a name and personal brand for yourself through the content you create helps you publicly demonstrate your skills and abilities.
In an increasingly competitive workforce, which may be rocked in the coming years with economic uncertainty, building your profile as a leader in your field is more important than ever.
This doesn’t mean you need to build a million-dollar influencer career or grow your social media accounts to millions of followers. It can be as simple as writing a regular column on your own personal blog or social media site, such as LinkedIn, or starting your own podcast in which you interview industry peers.
In the corporate world, thought leadership fuels critical business decisions and we can easily see how the same positive effects can be applied to individual thought leaders. For instance, 81% of polled C-suite executives say their trust in a brand increases when they consume that brand’s thought leadership content. And according to an Edelman-LinkedIn study, decision makers are spending an average of an hour a week consuming thought leadership content—what if some of them begin consuming your content?
From standing out on job applications and interviews, to having more leverage in salary negotiations, establishing yourself as a thought leader is one of the smartest strategies women in PR can pursue in 2021 and beyond. It can raise your profile, make your applications stand out, distinguish you from coworkers as you climb the corporate ladder, and even attract high-level decision makers.
Remote Working Your Way to the Top
Telecommuting isn’t a brand new trend either. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed it into overdrive.
What was once somewhat niche and rare (only 3.4% of the U.S. workforce was telecommuting full-time in 2019) is now quickly becoming a new normal (since the pandemic a whopping 42% of the U.S. workforce is telecommuting full-time).
It remains to be seen where these numbers end up once the COVID-19 pandemic is over but all signs point to a widespread continuation of work-from-home arrangements.
Employees love it. According to Buffer, 99% of polled remote workers want to continue working from home after the pandemic. It’s not hard to understand why either. Cutting out the daily commute saves significant money and time, and allows employees to better balance the needs of work and family, including child care. Remote working also means you can work in one city while living in another, or accept your dream job in another city without having to move your family.
For women in public relations, the rise in remote working opens up all kinds of opportunities, while also blunting the impact of family demands, which unfairly and disproportionately continue to fall onto the shoulders of women more than men.
With remote working PR and marketing jobs on the rise, women in the industry will have more opportunities at their fingertips than any time in history, while at the same time enjoying more career flexibility than any time in history.
Leveraging Emerging Technologies
Last but not least, emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are beginning to work their way into more and more fields, moving from experimental and theoretical to practical and implementable.
Public relations, marketing, and communications are no exception. AI tools and software are already being used to generate real-world deliverables such as copy for headlines and simple news articles. On the consumer side, AI algorithms are already being used to perform tasks like curating recommended products based on past purchasing history, and answering basic customer service inquiries.
In 2021 and the years beyond, we can expect to see these capabilities increase in complexity as well as the value they bring to their organizations. For instance, experimental AI technology can already use natural language generation to write original press releases and media reports, analyse social media mentions for sentiment, analyze communication strategies of competitors, and determine which media contacts to target for optimal coverage.
It won’t be long before these capabilities (and more) become in-market tools that PR firms and marketing departments can leverage fully.
What does this mean for women in those fields?
To be sure, the rise of AI may lead to the elimination or reduction of some pre-existing positions in the coming years. In equal measure, however, they will likely open up new positions as well.
Like anything, AI is a tool that needs a trained, skilful user to get the most out of it. Women currently make up only 22% of the world’s AI workforce, which means there’s a prime opportunity for women in PR to become leaders here, experts in leveraging emerging AI technologies for their firms.
Creating a Brighter Future
Technology is, without question, continuing to open up new possibilities for women in the workforce. It’s democratizing access to jobs and creating new avenues to stand out and become industry leaders. Women in public relations and marketing are in an especially ideal position to take advantage of these new tools.
But technology isn’t a solution in and of itself. It’s just a tool.
In recent years, we’ve witnessed several significant social movements gain traction and inspire real change or consequences.
The “Me Too” movement, for example, exposed how rampant the sexual abuse, harassment, and exploitation of women is around the world. Fuelled by the courage of women who stood up and spoke out about their experiences, “Me Too” has resulted in high-profile firings, boycotts, awareness campaigns, and more.
Importantly, these movements have also taught us something else as well, something that extends beyond their primary social causes and purposes: They’ve taught us that we have to work for change. That we have to show up—even when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient—in order to inspire progress and effect meaningful change.
If you’re a woman in public relations or a related field, 2021 and the future beyond looks bright. Technology is changing the ways we work and providing new ways for women in PR to establish themselves as leaders. But like anything else, only those who step and take advantage of these new trends and tools will find success.
Natasha Netschay Davies is president and owner of Moonraker PR, a digital PR and communications agency. She provides strategy, content development and new media corporate training to companies and non-profits on how to engage stakeholders and influencers using the most effective web, social media and mobile tools. She also serves as the Chair of Women in PR North America.
The Organization of Canadian Women in Public Relations (Women in PR Canada) and American Women in Public Relations (Women in PR USA) is a network of leading business women striving for excellence in the field of public relations. Together, our organizations form Women in PR North America.