Saturday, November 8, 2014

Women's Leadership and PR

A few weeks ago, a student who had seen me speak at Clemson's PRSSA meeting asked if I'd participate in an interview for her Women's Leadership class. The students were supposed to find a woman working in a field they'd like to enter.

It was an interesting exercise, so I thought I'd publish my interview, and then ask for those of my readers who blog to publish their answers too. For those without blogs, I think it's at least a good reflection to think about your answers. 

I found myself adding information to this after I'd submitted it, as I recalled struggles that I'd barely remembered even though they probably should have been important. After talking about this, my husband jumped in to say, about my stories from one job, "Oh, there were times I thought, 'If I'd been treated like that at work, I would have punched someone in the head....but I wouldn't have been treated that way, because I'm a dude.'" 

Women's Leadership Questionnaire: PR Field

1.     How did you first become interested in the Communications field and Public Relations, in particular?

I remember scanning through the list of available courses at Wake Forest the year before I attended. I highlighted the ones that looked most interesting, and when I went back through the book, the vast majority of those were in the Communication major. I didn’t know really what that meant, but the courses sounded interesting – and they were. I also did theatre in college and had a great theatre management internship, so I thought I wanted to do arts or theatre management. I enjoyed working with creative people while keeping an eye on the business side of things.

After I started working in a [redacted: previous job's field] and helping with the marketing team there, I realized that parts of marketing and PR were just what I’d been seeking: managing creative people while promoting sales. (And, nicely, marketing and PR pay better than arts management). I had found my fit. Also, personally, I enjoyed writing, especially clean, succinct writing that you don’t often get to do in school, and I realized the communication field was a good match for that skill.

2.     What were some of the biggest obstacles you had to overcome when founding Rock Creek Communications?

Honestly, the biggest issue was Impostor Syndrome. I had a hard time believing that I had enough skills to market myself as worth hiring, and worth paying a substantial hourly rate for. I focused a lot on what I couldn’t do – website design, graphic design, ad sales – and not what I could do. Once I found my niche, though (which is in editing, proofreading and copywriting), it became easier to say: “I’m very good at this one skill, so hire me for that. If you need more done, then go hire other people to help with other projects.”

The next issue was learning how to have a flexible schedule. I had been working for years at a 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. job, and starting my own company meant that some days I would have a lot of work, and other days (or weeks), I may have none. I needed to balance this with caring for my young children, who could wake up one day with fevers keeping them out of school for days and thus disrupting all my planned working hours. Being responsible for my own hours is both wonderful and very stressful.

3.     If you could go back and give your 19-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Relax and enjoy the present.
Yes, my hard work and intense planning paid off with a good first job, but I think I could have enjoyed college a little more if I’d worked a little less and played a little more. Honestly, unless you are 100% sure you want to go to a top-tier graduate school, then college grades don’t really matter. I know a few more Bs on my transcript would not have affected my job search, but may very well have let me have a little more fun during those four great years.

4.     In your current career, or even in a past job, was there ever a time when you felt as though you were not being treated fairly because of your gender? If so, please explain.

Now that I’m in the writing and PR field, I work almost exclusively with women, so no, I don’t experience any negative feelings about gender. But in my first job, which was in sales, I do think the men were promoted quicker and deified more. During my very first job review, I was told that I was a little too outspoken and opinionated for such a new employee. I honestly don’t feel they would have said that to a new male hire.

At that same job, I also observed women being very unfairly treated on their maternity leaves. I'm going to leave out that rant because it will raise my blood pressure, and technically it did not affect me personally, since I did not have kids during that job.

5.     While going through college and beginning your career did you have a mentor to help guide you? How did this person impact your career?

I don’t feel like I’ve ever had a mentor. There have been women whose careers I have respected and whose advice I have sought, but no one really took me under her wing or went out of her way to advise me. That said, I have had wonderful female bosses who did look out for me and helped me climb the ladder, but I'm hesitant to use the word "mentor." But maybe that's unfair of me.

6.     When applying for a job in Public Relations what would you say is the most important thing employers look for in applicants?

I think it’s a combination of basic skills plus go-getter personality. Public relations is not a field for the meek or timid. You have to be a people-person, a sparkling personality who can talk to anyone and also get things done. But you also have to have a toolkit of basic skills: flawless writing, strong public speaking, social media literacy.

All that said, a friend of mine who has done a lot of hiring in her career told me that the number-one trait she looks for is competence. As she says, you can be trained for just about any job if you can just show an employer that you’re competent. In my career, I’ve found that some people will hire me for jobs that I may not have direct experience in, but they trust my general competence. So prove to people that you can get things done in a timely and professional manner, and you’ll be incredibly valuable in any field.

7.     Starting you own business is incredibly difficult for anyone, but as a female do you feel that people were less supportive of your goal than they would have been if you were a male?

Actually, quite the opposite. I think people were actually more supportive of my business because they saw that it would fit well with staying home with my children. So maybe that reflects some embedded gender bias, but people do react positively to seeing a woman figure out how to have both a career and still be with her kids at home most of the day.

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