Leeds Business School

Work Discrimination and Bias against Women in Public Relations Literature : A Full Circle of Women’s Plight for Equality

I recently released a report from my EUPRERA project on ‘Women in Public Relations’, which provided a systematic overview of four decades of research on women in public relations.

The report is a result of a literature review of academic works published from 1982 until June 2019.

With my colleagues from nine European countries, I analysed a total of 223 articles and since the majority of academic work analysed is reporting findings based on surveys and interviews conducted with practitioners, the report provides a good overview of the situation in the public relations industry.

The findings are predominantly based on research conducted in the US, as American scholars are the most active in this field, and thus there is a heavy skew towards liberal feminist perspectives in research analysing career progression, pay gap and the glass ceiling. However, the analysis also shows that with establishing public relations as a discipline more work has been done around the world, with a peak of publications in the period from 2010 to 2019.

In analysing the literature, we used a thematic analysis to analyse 223 articles published in the period from 1982 until 2019, and we analysed the findings per decade (1982-1989, 1990-1999, 2000-2009 and 2010-2019) and then we compared findings against decades. The final thematic analysis was then conducted generally to capture main trends in the public relations literature on the position of women in public relations. In the final analysis, we established that there are three major themes in available research,

a) Liberal feminist perspectives where scholars have analysed issues such as glass ceiling and pay gap, work discrimination and the power that women simply do not hold due to their low status within organisations.

b) Radical feminist perspectives where scholars have started to analyse diversity in public relations, intersectionality, a lack of opportunities for women, women’s distinctiveness and criticism of liberal feminism that did not solve problems for women.

c) Theory development where scholars engaged with developing an organisational theory of public relations and thus analysing the position of women in the organisational setting.

The full report contains all thematic graphs for each period and the final thematic graph along with an extensive analysis of the literature. The report’s appendix contains tables with each unit of the analysis, which can be used to entice further research in the field. The report can be downloaded from here.

We are currently working on questionnaire design for the second phase of the project where we will be interviewing women working in the public relations industry in the UK, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Belgium, France, Georgia and Slovenia.

In the next phase, two new researchers will be joining the project, Dr Mirela Holy (VERN University, Zagreb, Croatia) and Dr Nina Pološki Vokić ( University of Zagreb, Croatia).

More details of this project can be found on our research project page.

Report cover Women in PR

Dr Martina Topic

Reader / Leeds Business School

Dr Martina Topić is a behavioural sociologist and communications scholar studying wicked problems of social inequity historically and at present, she is a Reader at Leeds Business School.

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