The White House this month released a report
showing that women still only earn about 75 percent of what men earn on the job. I feel disgusted but unsurprised.
Women have earned less than men since the government began tracking these numbers. In 1979, a woman earned 62 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In 2005 and 2006, women made 81 cents for every dollar men made. That was the all-time high!
In the last half decade, we’ve not only failed to make progress on the issue of gendered income inequity—we’ve increased the wage gap between men and women.
The public relations profession is not immune to this larger societal problem.
Preliminary data from the Public Relations Society of America’s 2010 Work, Life & Gender Survey indicated that the average annual income for men in public relations was about $120K; that figure for women was about $72K. In our 2006 survey, the average annual income for men was $98,188.82; the average for women was $67,853.08.
This income disparity is a problem for the public relations profession. Here’s why:
1. The problem appears to be getting worse. In 2006, the average income for women in public relations was 69 percent of men’s average earnings. In 2010, the figure was down to 60 percent. This widening wage gap is discouraging, not only for women practitioners, but also for the increasing number of households that rely on women as the primary wage-earner.
2. The percentage of women practitioners in public relations is increasing, not decreasing. This means that, as more women enter public relations with their lower annual earnings, the average incomes for the profession as a whole will decrease. This is a simple issue of math.
3. The profession may lose talent. As average incomes for the public relations profession decline, we may see talented practitioners move to other, related fields with higher salary offerings. This is a more complicated issue of competitiveness for our profession as a whole.
Of course, preliminary data are just that—preliminary.
This year, members of the Work, Life & Gender Committee will be doing some detailed analysis of the survey data. Perhaps the income differential is due to differences between men and women in years of experience or education levels. Perhaps it’s because more women than men are working part-time. Perhaps it’s because women’s careers get interrupted by
child bearing and other family responsibilities. Perhaps.
Of course, past research has indicated that—even with all these possible explanations controlled and accounted for—women in public relations still earn less than men. But perhaps this will be the year the data show us a different picture.
If so, I will be totally surprised, but totally not disgusted.
Bey-Ling Sha, Ph.D. chairs PRSA’s National Committee on Work, Life & Gender.