Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Thompson

The public relations industry has acknowledged women are underrepresented in leadership positions, yet, little seems to have been done about it and very few studies have been done to figure out why.

Some data suggests that although women hold nearly three-quarters of the jobs in PR, they only represent 20% of senior leadership positions. Some evidence suggests this year during the COVID-19 pandemic, women’s careers have taken yet another hit, as oftentimes women spend more time than men overseeing the care and schooling for children.

Years ago, I myself was a young, female PR professional with two young kids at home. Before I owned my own agency, I had often been forced to choose between being successful at work or being successful at home because of the demanding, sometimes 24/7 nature of public relations. I knew then the kind of agency I wanted to create would support female leaders AND their families. When I opened Thompson & Co. Public Relations, I realized I didn’t have to live that way anymore. And neither did my staff.

Almost 90% of T&C’s management team is made up of strong female leaders in the industry. And despite the COVID-19 pandemic, T&C recently promoted four women at the agency to new senior leadership roles, including two executive team roles.

So, how did T&C defeat the statistics? Pathways for women in leadership positions are built into the agency’s very Tenets & Convictions. Referred to as the T&Cs, a play on our agency’s name, these convictions outline the values the agency also expects from its employees every day. T&C puts an emphasis on creating a culture that encourages growth for all employees, but especially female employees in a profession where women are underrepresented in leadership positions.

For agency leadership hoping to replicate this kind of retention, here are a few of our values I recommend starting with.

Family first

T&C employees strive for work/life integration and embrace a culture of having it all. And family is defined individually. It’s not limited to traditional definitions, so whether you are a working mom, a daughter responsible for taking care of her parents or have any other family responsibility – that comes first. If you don’t make your employees choose between work and family, they will stay with you longer and perform better, eventually rising to the top and continuing to grow the culture in that direction.

Focus on personal and professional development

Learn from others at every opportunity, engage in what makes you uncomfortable and always push toward innovation. T&C not only encourages professional development (in all forms) it’s nearly a requirement. Without innovation, there is no progress. Encourage all employees to think outside the box, to innovate and to grow. And when you nurture that growth you create pathways for the next wave of leaders in your company.

Loyalty is everything

This one is big. Many people might say they rose to the top by focusing inward, focusing on their own career path. At T&C, we consider first what is best for our clients, then what is best for the whole T&C team before we look at what is best for ourselves. Because of this, employees celebrate each other’s wins and show a dedication to mentoring those who follow in their footstep. Almost every person in a leadership position at T&C started as an account coordinator or even an intern. The culture of jumping around from agency to agency to move up the ladder does not exist at T&C. This creates a culture of employees who truly care about their team and helping them grow – again paving the way for future leaders!

Having women in leadership roles changes the workplace. It’s essential for our industry to work toward getting rid of the gap that exists. Each of the four women recently promoted to senior leadership positions at T&C brings a unique and valuable skill set, and they continuously roll up their sleeves to deliver results. I can’t wait to see how their leadership will shape the future of the agency.

I encourage everyone to look within their organizations at the leadership level and evaluate if women hold, or have held, those positions. If not, why? Can you change your company culture to create more pathways for women in leadership?

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Jennifer Thompson is President and CEO of Thompson & Co. with offices in Anchorage, AK and Houston, TX.