Women in comms who inspired a generation

March is Women’s History month, an opportunity to celebrate the important role that women have played, and continue to play, in our society. And this year with gender inequality, and women’s rights dominating the headlines, it feels even more important to celebrate the women who have helped shape the future for us all today.

In our industry, the way women are characterised is synonymous with some of the most inaccurate female stereotypes. However, I know from personal experience that ‘PR gals’ are creative, inspiring, hardworking, smart and dedicated, and I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working with what I truly believe, are some of the industry’s most brilliant women.

According to the PRCA, women make up 64% of the PR Industry however, when you look back through history there’s a lack of women depicted in leadership roles. But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a hand in making the PR industry what it is today.

So, as the month draws to a close I thought it was the perfect opportunity to reflect and break down those stereotypes, and shout about some of the women who have been trailblazers in the PR world!

Ida Tarbell

Born in 1857, Ida Tarbell was one of the pioneers of investigative journalism, and following a 64-year long career, she is now believed to be one of the most influential writers in American history. Between the 1890s and 1920s, the United States went through a period of widespread social activism, and political reform and with that came a new age of journalism.

Known as the muckrakers, journalists began exposing injustice and corruption in leadership, raising awareness of issues like unsafe working conditions, prostitution, and child labour. Amongst a sea of men, Ida was one of the first female writers of the muckraking tradition and in 1904, her book ‘The History of the Standard Oil Company’ forced large companies to evaluate their practices and opened up a need for businesses to communicate with the public, something that would later come to be known as public relations.

So, whilst you may never have heard of Ida Tarbell before, her achievements during a time when women’s voices were often unheard, without doubt, played a key role in PR’s history and her desire to publish the truth is something that remains strong in the industry ethics today.

Leone Baxter

In the early 1900s, when PR began to emerge as a recognised profession in the US, it’s fair to say that it was a male-dominated industry – which was also true to say about journalism during the same period.

However, in 1933 the first political consulting firm was set up in the US and led by Clem Whitaker and his wife, Leone Baxter. Campaigns Inc. developed strategies and tactics for political campaigns, such as media advertisement buys, and direct-mail campaigns which are still practices used in PR today.

Baxter was a Chamber Commerce manager when she met Clem, and they went on to run a hugely successful enterprise, handling significant political campaigns over a period of 25 years. Media was always a key part of their campaigns, and they encouraged candidates to create worthy news, an earned media tactic that is still commonplace in PR.

Bessie Rayner Parkes

Whilst it’s widely believed that PR originated in the US, women were opening up opportunities for other women here in the UK too. One such being Bessie Rayner Parkes.

Bessie was a prominent feminist, journalist and entrepreneur in the Victoria era. She was one of the founders and principal editors of ‘The English Women’s Journal’ a monthly magazine that dealt primarily with female employment and equality issues. It was the first publication of its kind and has been described as one of the most important publications in UK feminist history.

Alongside this, Parkes started a business solely run by female workers to give young women the opportunity to be trained in a skill. The Victoria Printing Press was set up in 1860 and went on to become the sole printer of The English Women’s Journal.

Denora (Denny) Griswold

Often referred to as the ‘Grande Dame of PR’ Denny Griswold played an important in the industry’s history. In 1944, Griswold founded PR News the industry’s first newsletter, and an outlet that still exists today. She was passionate about the field of PR, and in 1946 she launched Women Executives in PR to encourage more women into PR roles.

In 1958, in an edition of PR News, Denny published 10 recommendations for better PR in 1959 and amongst these were ‘Broaden your knowledge to include experience beyond the immediate needs of your present work’ and ‘Exercise your creative imagination to its fullest’ mantras that I believe are still important in the profession today.

PR in the present day

Writing this blog has been hugely eye-opening for me, I’m in awe of the amazing things these women managed to accomplish and, in an era, where men dominated the field. They have opened up pathways and opportunities that have allowed women, like myself and the women in our team that I work alongside, to flourish in PR.

However, that’s not to say there isn’t still work to do. Whilst PR is a female-dominated industry, this drops significantly when you look at those in leadership roles. According to “Women in PR”, just a third of boardroom positions are taken by women.

So, what can we do?

I believe, that if we are to tackle this imbalance, we have to work hard to empower and inspire each other, and that means men too! We must follow in the footsteps of those who came before us and continue to strive for equality in our industry and build a future for the next generation of women in PR.

I know from personal experience, that when women come together incredible things can happen. And in today’s online world, a fantastic way to do this is by building connections online and shouting out some of the incredible women in PR today.

Alex Whiteside

Alex Whiteside

I have been working in digital marketing for the last four years, originally beginning in-house at an independent estate agent whilst completing my post graduate diploma in Digital Marketing and Data Analytics. I’ve worked with brands like Checkatrade, Eureka! and MBNA. Specialising in social media and influencer marketing, I love working collaboratively with clients on brand marketing – and I’m always nose deep in the latest social updates!

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