By Louise Jacobson, Managing Partner - Brazen MENA
International Women’s Day is getting bigger, better and more impactful every year. Women around the world come together to celebrate the success and achievements of women, and unite on our plight for gender equality. It also gives us an opportunity to discuss challenges and opportunities in our respective countries and industries.
So as we approach IWD, what does it mean to be a woman in PR in 2021?
Firstly, I find being a woman in PR in this region hugely exciting and rewarding. I’ve had an incredible ride since I set up Brazen MENA here in 2015, and I’m proud to say I have a female majority team. I also love the collaborative spirit of my female counterparts in other agencies, and we very much have a ‘community not competition’ mindset which is something very special. I’ve had many opportunities happen quicker for me here than anywhere else in the world, partly because of the progressive, fact paced environment here, but I also think it’s a reflection of what is happening at the top.
I've had the honor of hearing the Director-General of the Government of Dubai Media Office, Her Excellency Mona Al Marri speak at an event a few years ago and her work for the Global Women’s Forum Dubai and UAE Gender Balance Council have been revolutionary in terms of empowering women. If I look around me, yes this has trickled down to the private sector, but I think there is more work to be done in terms of increasing the number of women in decision making roles.
Many of my agency counterparts are women, and indeed our clients as well, who hold senior marketing and communications titles, but I would like to see even more women in those C-suite level positions. A study by global consulting firm Hay Group, found that women outperform men in emotional intelligence skills such as collaboration, networking and communication – key skills needed in PR. So why isn’t this being reflected in more senior women hires?
In terms of other challenges, flexible working policies haven’t been mainstay in the industry due to the full on and fast paced nature of PR. Interestingly this is something the pandemic has brought to the table due to movement restrictions, and it’s good to see many companies (including mine) adopt hybrid working structures in the office and home, as well as flexi-hours. It’s a much needed overhaul which will benefit working mothers.
Even with these new working policies, I do think the last 12 months have seen women in PR face burn-out like never before. Homes, usually our sanctuaries became classrooms and workspaces. We’ve had to meet the demands of our clients who were feeling the pressure in an era of global uncertainty. We’ve had to pivot and be agile on a constant basis, and our work / life balance suffered as a result. Wellbeing needs to be at the top of the agenda for any PR organization now.
In terms of overcoming issues in our industry, a collection of voices is better than one, which is of course the purpose of IWD each year. Organizations such as Global Women in PR MENA, MEPRA and Dubai Business Women Council have made great strides in developing networks of like-minded women, so we can do more and do better and tackle these issues together. They foster a spirit of collaboration, community and together we feel more empowered.
Another essential element needed for gender parity is education and fostering ambition in the next generation of women in PR. I work with universities, do mentorships, and I strive to make sure these young ladies know they can go all the way to the top in the PR industry. MEPRA’s Youth Board which is involved in building capable young communicators in the region is managed by a female president. Women entering the PR industry should know that it’s one of the most exciting industries out there and it offers huge opportunities for women. A can-do mindset and ability to multi-task are essential for success – skills that come naturally to us ladies.
As we look forward to the rest of 2021, women in PR should feel confident and positive for two key reasons. Firstly, our industry is predicted to recover very well, and secondly the skills we’ve developed as PR professionals such as being able to handle a crisis, managing multiple stakeholders, communicating effectively etc. have enabled us to handle 2020, so now we need to really harness those skills, (not forgetting the soft skills we outperform men on), and feel strong to deal with what lies ahead.
For me, this year’s IWD theme of ‘choose to challenge’ is to motivate each and every one of us to take action now. It starts with us, how we call out gender bias, how we build up the women around us, how we celebrate the journeys and achievements of women, how we challenge our places of work and other environments. So, men and women reading this, how will you choose to challenge?