In many areas of work and life, some normalcy is returning after almost two years of COVID-19.
One thing is not back to normal, though—women returning to the workforce. In the year that followed pandemic lockdowns, nearly 3 million women were pushed out of the traditional labor force. They're unlikely to return soon.
For PR, which is mostly women, this means things will look considerably different than they did just a year ago.
Moreover, if policies aren't adapted quickly to meet women’s needs, PR will experience a talent drain that will have lasting effects on hiring and productivity.
Staff Have Options
PR leaders can’t sit still. Women, and men, have ample options for abandoning the traditional nine-to-five role. For example, more than 40 percent of Millennials and nearly 55 percent of Gen Z-ers participate in the gig economy. In addition, women are starting more than 1,800 businesses per day.
And 30 percent of marketers are choosing solo careers, a recent survey says.
These data mean that companies no longer just compete against each other for top PR talent. Instead, they’re battling with communicators’ ability to build careers that meet their needs.
WFH Flexibility Predates COVID-19
While we hear people say, ‘The pandemic changed everything,’ these PR employment trends are not new. Before COVID, communicators made it clear that flextime and WFH were important. Back in 2019, 74 percent of PR pros viewed flextime as the most important employment benefit, per a PR Week survey. Yet, just 41 percent offered flextime. Moreover, for many it was just a few WFH days per month.
What COVID revealed is that more flexible work schedules are not just possible, but necessary. This is particularly so for women, who often carry more of the burden of household labor.
For example, in a recent survey of marketers, 100 percent said they want the option to continue WFH. Yet, just 37 percent believe their organizations can sustain a remote or hybrid work model.
It’s the new reality: a growing number of PR professionals no longer want traditional full-time roles. So, leaders should abandon the idea that full-time employees are the only or best options to meet PR objectives. Future teams will consist of full-time employees, go-to consultants, part-time team members, trusted vendors and more.
The Next Steps
It’s obvious PR leaders should not take flexible schedules lightly. Instead, they should replace ‘Band-Aid’ fixes created during lockdown with permanent, meaningful long-term policies, processes and technology.
The most common issues that need attention include:
- Inefficient planning
- A lack of tools and technology that allow PR pros to collaborate remotely
- Exhausting meeting schedules resulting in Zoom fatigue
- Gaps in internal communication, which retard team alignment and sharing of critical context across an organization
A Gender Issue
There’s another issue PR must consider. As we know, men still hold the majority of PR’s leadership positions, with some estimates reaching nearly 80 percent.
Since leadership fails to reflect the majority of those who work in PR it’s likely policies will not meet the needs of most communicators.
While many in PR are striving to close the leadership gender gap, the problem won’t be fixed overnight. Until it is, PR must find ways of ensuring professionals’ needs are not only heard but acknowledged and met.
For example, companies can initiate reverse mentorship programs to create more consistent communication channels between every level of an organization.
In addition, PR teams of every size can audit who’s sitting at the table during critical meetings. If those attending don’t reflect the workforce, leaders should initiate a movement to increase diversity–and have a voice–at decision-making meetings.
As they build more blended teams, organizations can and should begin auditing and revising how they onboard, file-share, communicate and align on priorities. This will increase chances for each team member to succeed no matter if they’re full time, an outside consultant or something in between.
These challenges are not insurmountable, but they must be taken seriously—now. After seeing how women have responded to the unpredictability of COVID-19, it’s clear they’re resilient. However, if PR leaders do not start genuinely listening to and meeting the needs of women, their organizations might not be.
Shauna Nuckles is founder of Advocation
The writer’s views do not necessarily reflect those of the PRNEWS staff.