Perspectives - IWD Edition: How sometimes accelerating success requires taking a break

Perspectives - IWD Edition: How sometimes accelerating success requires taking a break

'Perspectives' is a Telum Media submitted article series, where diverse viewpoints spark thought-provoking conversations about the role of PR and communications in today's world. This special edition International Women's Day (IWD) Perspectives piece was submitted by Heather Jones, Principal and Founder of Priage Media.

Did you know only 30 per cent of media coverage in Australia cites female experts? That stat lit a fire in my soul early last year - more about that in a moment.

First, what does it mean for you as a communications professional to meet the United Nation’s International Women's Day mandate to "invest in women" and "accelerate success" in 2024?

As the former Managing Director and Founder of an independent PR agency for almost 12 years, I can tell you that my greatest legacy was creating a work culture that embraces part-time, paid parental leave, facilitates playing to individuals' audit-based strengths, actively recruits women returning to work after maternity leave, and offers "YOLO" days for spontaneous mental health circuit-breakers.

So, how did I get here, back in start-up mode with Priage Media actively representing and coaching brands and causes distinguished with strong female leaders?

Through a dark valley of the soul, to be honest. Struggling with grief-induced burnout several years ago, I made an empowered choice with the support of my team and family to step away from my client and agency leadership role. It was an awful season I’m open to talking about in this important IWD context, as it’s not uncommon for professional women to be teetering on the edge of burnout.

Sometimes accelerating success, counter-intuitively, requires taking a break.

So, after a few years of freelancing, I was distractedly scanning my newsfeed when the Women in Media gender scorecard report highlighted the 30/70 gendered media representation gap. I leaned in.

Most of my career, likely much like yours, I’ve represented clients with mostly strong male leaders. I’m absolutely not making a value-judgement or undermining the value of any of those fantastic opportunities, or incredible leaders, but I did have two decades of experience giving counsel and standing out in male-dominated industries. I knew we could do better.

Knowing there’s still a lot of editorial space available for this rising generation of fempreneurs and #bosslady titans of industry rallies a competitive strength in me, one that wants to claim every available digital inch, to accelerate her success.

So I now get to intentionally invest in women, the enterprises they lead, and the innovations they inspire - giving them airtime with millions of viewers and readers via earned media. It unites my hard-earned skills, over 20 years' experience crafting stories and getting coverage, and passion to see women succeed.

Something I still love about public relations is its power to influence and change beliefs, shift conversations, pique curiosity and be a positive force in society.

The PR industry itself is relatively well represented across most diversity metrics, not just gender. We’re not perfect, but compared to acutely male-dominated industries like STEM - where a staggering 83 per cent of women are gone by middle to senior ranks - we’re not core to the problem, but we certainly are part of the solution.

From Cambridge and Harvard to the Australian Human Rights Commission, it's a well-researched and known fact that media consumption impacts social behaviour and beliefs. It follows that seeing and hearing diverse narratives via media channels, people's trust will consciously and sub-consciously challenge limiting beliefs around gender stereotypes.

Within your own agency or department there are micro-moments every day to help accelerate the success of female colleagues. Here are some ideas:
  • Actively challenge out-dated tropes and jokes in the workplace.
  • Assess individuals' strengths with independent tools like the Gallup Strengthsfinder, and entrench the language and profile into your culture. I found it has a knock-on effect of dismantling gender stereotypes in teams too.
  • Advocate for part-time and flexi positions for all roles, genders and parents and non-parents alike. Doing so helps accelerate structural social change that supports everyone being more involved in sharing the domestic load and having work / life balance.
  • Normalise the presence of women in every brainstorm, pitch, and proposal.
  • Media visibility dismantles stereotypes. It's easier to be what you can see. Earned media matters in shaping society, so if you have female spokespeople, put them forward.
  • Within your own office, speak up, don’t wait to be spoken to. Some other tips for embracing traditionally feminine leadership traits can be found here.
  • Design high-impact PR campaigns that challenge stereotypes and shift beliefs (e.g. Dove’s famous ‘Run like a Girl’ campaign).
Where others see problems, I see dancing dots. Problem-solving is a natural expression of creativity, and most of you have that in spades. I’m looking forward to partnering with our PR industry well beyond IWD to help fill the remaining sinkhole in our fourth estate, and equip professional women with the mindset and skills to take advantage of this truly historic shift that will see more women on stages, and in media pages, than ever before.

Backed by over 25 years' of PR and comms experience, Heather Jones is Principal and Founder of Priage Media, an agency that provides advocacy, coaching and PR storytelling services for companies and causes with female founders or leaders, aiming to help close the 30/70 female media representation gap in Australia. She was previously Managing Director and Co-Founder of Filtered Media (now ImpactInstitute) and has spent time working with various agencies and in-house comms teams, including at Lenovo, IBM, Edelman and Text 100.

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