2023 Annual Index highlights harassment as a major issue

Published 13th Dec 2023

GWPR Annual Index 2023 banner

Global networking organisation for women working in PR and Communications, GWPR, has released the results from its 2023 Annual Index aimed at measuring and tracking the progress towards gender equality in the workplace.  The research seeks to understand the factors that have either impeded or accelerated this progress.  In the five years since the research programme was launched much has changed in the world but the progress towards gender equality still has a long way to go.

Conducted in partnership with strategic insight agency Opinium, the research covered women working in PR across 35 countries divided equally between agency and ‘in-house’ and 10% independents. The aim was to track and measure progress towards gender equality in the workplace, and to understand the factors that have either impeded or accelerated this progress.

In this year’s survey, a new section on harassment was introduced (in all its forms, not just sexual) to explore whether this was a concern for women. The results are disturbing. 53% of women of all levels reported facing harassment in their workplace, the most common forms being psychological, power and personal harassment. Around a third of those who reported the harassment either left or were encouraged to leave their organisations, while no action was taken in the case of another third. This is a serious impediment to the progress of women in their careers given that most women who reported harassment were in mid or senior positions.

Sadly very little has changed in board composition over the 5 years with this year’s survey indicating that a majority of boards continue to remain male-dominated or entirely male. In-house progression for women on boards is much slower than in agencies and three-fifths of women in PR continue to work in companies where the boardroom is male-dominated. This is despite the fact of the growing recognition of the value of gender-diverse boards with over 75% surveyed acknowledging that more women on boards lead to an improvement in working practices in the PR industry, creativity and company productivity

The biggest barrier to women progressing to board positions is perceived to be childcare or caring responsibilities with 87% highlighting this as a factor. 76% feel the lack of flexible working and family-friendly policies is a barrier while 74% feel women tend to be less proactive about asking for promotions than men.

Last year, we included a new section on ageism in the industry, a factor that continues to be prevalent in the industry and one that various studies show impacts more women than men. This year, a majority of those who work in agencies revealed that they do not see themselves staying in the agency beyond 50 years of age, opting to either move in-house, set up their consultancy or opt out of the workforce.

2023 has been a year of reset as organisations emerge from the pandemic recognising that hybrid work is here to stay, at least for the near term. As many companies grappled with the optimal mix of remote versus in-person working, women’s recognition of the benefits of flexible work grew. Our survey revealed that a better work-life balance, mental well-being, retaining female talent and managing caring responsibilities were some positive benefits of flexible working.

However, the positive benefits of flexible working did not necessarily create easy pathways for more women to progress in their careers, particularly those with children and other caring responsibilities. Around half of the women surveyed believe that women with children are still discriminated against in terms of career progression. It was clear that flexible ways of working are not enough in themselves unless they are accompanied by policies and benefits exclusively built around flexible working.

Where does all this then leave women in PR and Communications? Despite the move to flexible working and its perceived benefits, there still are several barriers that women face in their career progression, including the lack of benefits and policies tailored to suit flexible working, harassment at the workplace, ageism and perceptions around women with children. Sue Hardwick, President of GWPR commented  “Whilst we are seeing some progress it is not enough and is not fast enough…We hope that by shining a light on the key issues we can find solutions to create a better balance that works for everyone”.

Flexible working in itself is not a panacea, and whilst we need to embrace hybrid models there is still a need to create a more enabling environment for women to bring their best selves to work every day – one not impeded by age or toxicity and other forms of bias and discrimination. We need more – from policies and benefits to awareness training to role models and mentoring. Collective action by the industry with actionable goals that are measured regularly is needed for women to create opportunities for women in PR/Communications to progress to senior and board positions.