This column appeared in PRWeek, July 21, 2008, and is reproduced with permission.
Anyone who has spent time lately in college classrooms speaking to students in public relations and communication disciplines has seen first-hand an unmistakable trend. The field is finding it increasingly difficult to attract male students. I have spoken on a half dozen campuses in addition to my own in the last year and the gender ratio I’m seeing is about seventy percent female; some of the classes I taught didn’t have a single male student.
To be certain that what I experienced wasn’t a random anomaly I checked with the Public Relations Student Society of America, the largest membership group for PR students. Their most recent member survey revealed that 89 percent of current members are female, based on over 1,100 responses out of their 9,600 members at 284 academic institutions.
It’s hard to identify with certainty the reasons behind this trend. I have asked younger colleagues their opinions and generally they feel it has to do with the perceived monetary reward-or lack of same-that certain professions promise. As one of them (a male) put it, “There’s a widespread perception, with some hint of reality, that entry-level positions at many PR agencies are low paying, regardless of gender. I think this is a turn-off for young men just leaving school. Male college grads come out of the chute very competitive and they often equate ‘best’ with most financially rewarding.”
I have personally mentored some outstanding young women in my role at the College of Charleston and I’m delighted that we are successfully attracting these new leaders to our profession. Yet I feel the gender imbalance we are now seeing is a troubling one, just as troubling as it would be if the student populations were dominated by males.
Why? For the same reasons that virtually any gender imbalance raises issues. More than in some other professions, ours should look like the society it serves. We work in a relationship based profession, both by definition and practice. We serve audiences that reflect a wide range of diverse attributes, including gender. To best serve them we need to best understand them and it helps if we share their demographic qualities…age, ethnicity, education and gender.
We need to reach out in creative new ways to bright promising young men on our college campuses and remind them of the many attributes of a career in the communications profession. We’re clearly not having trouble getting this message across to young women, and if we can attract the best students of both genders our profession will be better equipped to meet tomorrow’s challenges.
Executive-in-Residence, Department of Communication, The College of Charleston
Trustee, Institute for Public Relations