The Next Decade For Women In PR – what we learnt from our International Panel Debate

Published 28th Mar 2021

by Sue Hardwick – Joint President GWPR

To celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day, Cornelia Kunze, Chair of GWPR’s International Board, asked four influential female leaders to give us their thoughts on the future for women in communications. They looked at the progress that has already been made and offered their thoughts on improving diversity and creating a more inclusive environment.

International Women's Day Panellists

Our Panel

  • Esther Cobbah, CEO of Strategic Communications Africa, Ghana
  • Ira Pradhan, Leader Internal Communications, D&I and CSR at Freshworks, India
  • Julianna Richter, Global CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations, New York
  • Noora Al Abbar, Strategic Media Affairs Director, Dubai Media Office
  • Moderated by Arun Sudhaman, CEO and editor-in-chief of Provoke

The positive developments from the past decade…

Julianna believed there had been progress in empowering women to take on leadership roles – the creation of a more authentic and inclusive form of leadership had helped change the landscape with more women now in CEO roles and more leading at the C-suite level. By ‘normalising’ women in senior positions the dial had shifted but there was still a lot more to do.

Ira believed that in India mentoring, global networking and being able to see more women take on leadership roles had moved things forward but it was still a patriarchal society. Bias was reversible but action was needed to tackle this. More lessons needed to be learnt to improve equality but there was a ‘silver line’ on the horizon with agility and collaboration playing a key part – particularly prevalent in India’s many start -up enterprises. 

A more agile approach to leadership with ‘merit’ not gender was a key factor for getting more women into senior roles in the UAE. Noora had seen a real culture shift in attitudes away from the “Arab stereotype”. The UAE had made a significant move towards a better gender balance with many government set targets for the public sector met in advance of their deadlines. There needed to be a progressive mind-set to help sustain the economy and the setting of targets and regulations had undoubtedly helped both the public and the private sector develop towards creating greater equality. 

Esther noted that women were at last being recognised as effective communicators helping the economy grow in Ghana and across Africa. PR was evolving to support private enterprise and was no longer the preserve of the public sector. The growth in private PR businesses had helped drive more women into senior positions. t make these companies work effectively. This trend was continuing with more women working in both the private and public sectors. These women were developing their skills and helping to change the PR landscape to benefit the growth of the economy.

How to move forward to achieve equality and equity?

“Hiring with head and heart” was Julianna’s advice to ensuring gender blend consistency and valuing staff members

It was important to adopt a lifecycle approach to hiring – there were different stages of development and career aspirations that needed to be addressed and this was key to understanding how to get the best for everyone in the business.

This was not an HR issue but needed to be owned and driven by the leadership – diversity and inclusion needed to be embraced at both the CEO and C-suite level.

‘Asking’ is vital – where are they now? – what do they need? what do they want? –  these are important questions in understanding how best to motivate and ensure the best outcomes – assumptions are often made without proper involvement so ask and ensure staff are involved in the decisions that affect them… – this can create a major step change in the drive to create a better and more balanced workforce.

Julianna added that gender blind hiring and consistency in how we hire people is vital and needs to be led and owned by the leadership not HR…

According to Esther to facilitate the rise in female leadership senior managers need to avoid ‘tokenism’, there needs to be more mentoring opportunities, businesses need to value the benefits of good PR, encourage self-development and celebrate female achievements. These actions will help drive more women into senior roles. It was important to help other women enter the industry and give them the tools to succeed. Seeing the difference women can make to a business was vital whilst also encouraging companies to see how women add to the value of the company both from a strategic standpoint and by adding value to the bottom line. Women need to be encouraged to see the value they bring to the table.

Noora viewed targets and regulations as important drivers in changing the dynamic and moving things forward and they remain useful tools – however what was vitally important now was not just to look at data but to have a progressive mind-set. The question is what talent do we need not how many women do we need to employ? 

The panel agreed that quotas can work to facilitate change. Numbers do not lie and when change needs to be made setting goals can be very effective in changing organisations –measure to matter and take it seriously.

Mindful networking was empowering and for Ira this was a major driver for change – to seek advice with clear goals in mind and to offer insights in return. This has been especially important during the pandemic. She believes women must write their own story to grow– ‘manning up’ should not be the answer! Being authentic, inclusive and changing the bias – it is incumbent on all of us to do this.

Arun asked each panellist for the best advice they had been given and the advice they would give now:

The advice for Juliette –Show what you are capable of – look for opportunities to leap in everything you do and experience

Advice given – Use ‘ASK’ as a strategy

The advice for Noora – Choose your battles – it’s good to be a woman 

Advice Given – Take calculated risks, relish opportunities and most importantly have fun!

The advice for Esther – Wear your oxygen mask before helping others wear theirs 

Advice Given – Understand your context and find the opportunities yourself – focus on them and be relevant

The advice for Ira – Speak up – put your hand up

Advice Given – Take up the opportunities given to you

To view the full debate please use the following link to our YouTube platform: