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Suffrage centenary— PR, feminism, and equality

Today— Tuesday 6th February 2018— marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act which gave at least some women the right to vote here in the U.K. It would be another ten years before all women over 21 had their say in parliamentary matters, but nevertheless 1918 was a monumental turning point for equality in this country.
Given the fact that the most famous of all suffragettes, Emily Pankhurst, is one of Manchester’s greatest daughters— her home in Rusholme, where the movement was born, is now a cultural centre and, for today at least, the site of Radio 4’s Women’s Hour broadcast– it seemed only right for Manchester’s most ingenious comms agency, Smoking Gun, to pen some thoughts on the anniversary.

Not that this is the first time we’ve sounded off on our blog about this issue. Last week the January edition of our newsletter was published, and this included a story entitled Equality now, which contained a series of stats to show just how far the media, business, and comms worlds still have to go before they can truly claim to be past gender bias.
We balanced those out with a few more positive facts, providing evidence that we have indeed made some significant strides in the struggle to look behind the male-female divide.
Although times have changed here at Smoking Gun, and we now consider ourselves a comms agency with a broad remit, our roots lie in public relations, an industry that occupies an interesting place in the overall feminism debate. On the one hand, some studies suggest that 85% of all jobs in PR are occupied by women. But then only 30% of global agencies are run by females, representing something of a disconnect if ever we saw one.
According to figures published by Ragan, things don’t improve for women when they get more experienced, and mature. 36% of females working in PR say the industry is ageist, but this drops to 25% when it comes to men. Perhaps worst of all, 30% of women in the sector claim they are not confident enough to reach the top of the proverbial career ladder, something that could at least in part be chalked down to problems with internal management.
Virgin’s Disruptors blog recently published an article which asked the question ‘Should businesses focus on cultural targets to boost productivity?‘ Using Dr Cary Cooper as a talking head— Professor of Organisational Psychology at the University of Manchester Business School, President of the British Academy of Management and President of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development— the piece has some damning numbers about the impact of bad leadership.
7/10 UK staff are too scared to raise the issue of stress in the workplace with their managers, and issues surrounded career progression are unarguably a factor in heightened stress levels. As is sexism and misogyny.
Although this may not sound particularly connected to suffrage, dig a little deeper and the relationship begins to make sense. We live in a modern world, but it’s still dominated by archaic patriarchal attitudes. Things therefore need to change, and change has to start from the top, at senior management level, in order to truly alter the culture of prejudice. Perhaps then we might see some of those numbers start to improve, and finally be able to claim equality in PR, and other comms sectors.
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