Interview | Feminist solutions to PR’s gender inequality | Dr Keren Darmon

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Dr Keren Darmon joined me on Zoom for a virtual interview where we spoke about her research into the gender inequalities women face in the PR industry and the impact of women’s networks. An accomplished scholar and lecturer in the field of Media and Communications, she earned her PhD from the prestigious London School of Economics in 2017, specialising in Feminist Media Studies. Dr Darmon’s research is deeply rooted in exploring the intersectionality of women in PR and public affairs through a feminist and anti-racist lens.

Continue reading or listen here:

“I had always been a feminist, but as I got older I put this interest on the shelf to focus more on my career.” Prior to her academic career, she garnered over 12 years of professional experience in central government communications. “Originally, I was going to pursue a PhD in Government Communications, but I soon realised I knew enough about government communications. So, I instead decided to design a Feminist Studies research project for my PhD, grouping together my interest in feminism and the media.”

While women make up the majority in the PR industry, their representation in leadership roles decreases significantly. The 2022 Global Women in PR report noted that, despite the global PR industry being two-thirds female, the boardroom tells a different story, with men still occupying the majority of seats at the table. Similarly, the 2024 CIPR Population report revealed that, despite women making up over 60 per cent of the profession, they constitute 66 per cent of those below director level. “You would think that in an industry that is predominately made up of women, that women would take on a majority of the leadership roles.” – and Dr. Darmon is right; the gender inequalities regarding leadership and boardroom level are there in plain sight for everyone to see. So now what do we do about it? She suggests the first place we look to is the already existing networks that support women in the industry, which is the focus of her research which is available to read in Women’s Work in Public Relations. Dr Darmon’s research delves into the role women’s networks play in addressing these inequalities and explores other ways to confront gender disparities in the industry. 

Women’s network groups 

Over the past decade, there has been a significant emergence of women’s networks and mentorship programmes in the PR sector such as Women in PR (WIPRUK), Global Women in PR and Women in advertising and communication (WACL). Dr Darmon implies that this focus on individual efforts stems from a post feminist sensibility, which she argues “our current culture is infused with.” Theorised by scholar Rosalind Gill, post feminist sensibility is characterised by several tropes, including individual choice and empowerment. “It aligns closely with the late capitalist neoliberal climate, where there’s a push for self-improvement and fitting into existing structures rather than challenging or changing them.” She suggests that while these networks and mentorship programmes “offer a lot of promise,” the individualistic focus may not be sufficient to create broader change or address the root causes of gender disparities, especially in leadership roles.

When we started talking about mentoring programmes and women’s networks, through the interview Dr. Darmon reiterated that she does not in any way discredit their value. “They are beneficial, and the women who have benefited from them absolutely deserve the recognition for their achievements. I am not taking away from all the work they have done”. However, she believes that “mentoring is just one part of the equation,” arguing that while some women benefit from these programmes, receiving career coaching and promotions, many others are left without the same opportunities. “So what happens to those women? It shouldn’t require dedicated schemes to ensure that women in the industry receive the recognition and opportunities they deserve.”

Power of collective voice 

Throughout the interview, Dr Darmon mentions how her PhD made her aware of how collective action represents a feminist approach that the PR industry should embrace to address the inequalities prevalent within the sector. Instead of relying solely on individual efforts or isolated initiatives, collective action emphasises the power of unity and collaboration among women and allies in the industry. 

The solution? Focusing on strengthening our collective voice to negotiate for change: “It’s not just about advancing individual women but ensuring inclusivity for all. When members of these networks collaborate, they have a stronger collective voice to negotiate for change, making it easier to advocate for broader improvements rather than relying on individual efforts.”

While discussing the need for systemic changes to address gender inequalities in the PR industry, Dr Darmon expressed a powerful sentiment: “The workplace should be adjusting to women, not women having to adjust to the workplace”, underscoring the importance of reshaping organisational structures and cultures to be more inclusive and accommodating to women.

Unmasking barriers

While the barriers faced by women in the PR industry may be apparent to those within the field and even in related industries, Dr Darmon emphasises the importance of explicitly naming these barriers rather than assuming everyone is aware of them.

The research presented in the book included analysing the web-based text of Women in PR and Global Women in PR websites. This type of analysing is referred to as discourse analysis and examines both what is said and what is left unsaid. “This revealed to me that the barriers and challenges mentioned on the websites were not explicitly stated.”

When comparing mothers and fathers, the gender disparity in career progression remains striking. According to the Global Women in PR 2022 report, half (50 per cent) of PR professionals feel mothers are promoted more slowly, compared to just 4 per cent of fathers. Biological barriers in particular affect all women’s careers, and the PR industry is not exempt from this. Dr Darmon emphasises the importance of acknowledging what she refers to as “the three M’s: “menstruation, motherhood, and menopause”. These biological factors play a crucial role in influencing women’s career paths, impacting their employability and opportunities for career advancement. “When I interviewed for my first job in the public sector, they asked me if I was thinking of having any children. The spectre of motherhood is always present. I could have been infertile, but there was an assumption that motherhood was a path I would pursue.” Despite the assumptions society often makes about women and motherhood, everyone’s journey is unique. It’s essential to recognise and respect the choices and paths individuals choose for themselves.

While mentoring programmes and women’s networks undeniably play a crucial role in advancing gender equality in the PR industry, they’re “just one piece of the larger puzzle”. It’s essential to recognise that achieving true equality requires a multifaceted approach. Alongside mentoring and networking opportunities, there must be systemic changes and a collective commitment to dismantling barriers that hinder women’s progress. It’s not solely about individual efforts or isolated programmes but a comprehensive strategy that addresses the root causes of inequality.