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How Flexible Working Can Drive Equality

Hotwire Global

When I think about the communications industry, I think about innovation, creativity and most of all a talented, ambitious bunch of people driving value for their clients. So I find it a little baffling that as employers, many agencies are not as forward thinking as they could be – or indeed, as some of their clients. Given how hard it can be to find and keep talented people, this seems doubly strange.

There is a big opportunity here for agencies that are willing to innovate. The PRCA’s 2016 PR Census tells an interesting story. 64% of employees in PR are women. While I’m pleased to say that this isn’t something we experience at Hotwire, across the industry the gender pay gap averages £9,111. Why is that? Well, there are lots of reasons, of course. Are women reluctant to “lean in”, is there bias in promotion and hiring decisions?

There is, of course, another reason and the numbers point to this. The PRCA found that 46% of men in PR have dependents, compared to only 27% of women. They conclude that a higher percentage of men are older and more senior. So what has happened to the older, more senior women? Where have they gone?

With an average age in PR of just 28, it’s clear that women are leaving communications around the time they have children. Think of all that talent – the training, the ideas, the skills and experience – draining out of the industry, while everyone chases their tails trying to replace it. Think about the inequality this creates and how that affects us all.

Last week, I chaired a discussion for the PRCA HR Forum about how we in communications can empower working parents. There are lots of things employers can do to help parents, but the issue we talked about most was flexibility, and creating a level playing field for men and women, at work and at home.

Karen Mattison MBE, founder of Timewise, a job board for flexible roles, argued powerfully for a more imaginative approach to structuring jobs so they work flexibly – for men and women, parents and non-parents. She told us that communications is comparatively bad at this and is particularly unlikely to offer part time roles from point of hire.

Why is this? One answer comes back loud and clear. Clients! Clients won’t like it – they want their teams available five days a week (in some cases, ideally more).

But is that really true today? Well, the answer is no, as long as teams and roles are structured well. Eleanor Orebi Gann, Director – Collaboration at Visa and another panellist at the discussion, said that as a client, she doesn’t care what working patterns her agency team has, as long as someone is there when she needs them. So a job share or a strong team can mean that flexible and part-time working are not a barrier to great client work. At Hotwire, we’ve embraced flexible working from our foundation so it is part of our culture – and that’s important, as policies alone can’t make this work.

The communications industry is facing some challenges, but we also have a solution. We need amazing people to deliver the best work for our clients. Those people are in short supply, and not only that, many of them don’t see a long term future in communications, so we’re losing them. We also have a diversity issue, and part of this is that – extraordinarily – a female-dominated industry has a gender pay gap, and a minority of women in leadership positions. Happily, there is a solution that is well within the grasp of a creative, innovative industry like ours. We need to set the agenda on flexible working and make our industry work for everyone.