Taking On The 'B Word'
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Holmes Report
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Taking On The 'B Word'

A truly successful PR woman must be completely comfortable with telling other people what to do. Stridently, if necessary.

Holmes Report

Is there a PR person on the planet that would say to her spokespersons, "The messages are just a suggestion. Say whatever you’d like.” Or tell any journalist, “You can run the story whenever.” Of course not.  Communications is about control. We strive to deliver one consistent message to the marketplace through the mouths of people who, yes, we must control. We strive to coordinate and enhance when and how news is released. That’s our job!

Successful and effective PR requires an element of fascism. A truly successful PR woman must be completely comfortable with telling other people what to do. Stridently, if necessary. That’s why PR women can so often be called bossy, or even the other B word. If you’re female, doing your job brilliantly comes with consequences. 

The Girl Scouts and Sheryl Sandberg are tackling those consequences. The Ban Bossy and Lean In campaigns are a huge boon to women in our highly pressurized field. Women, who are the great majority of junior PR people, are shockingly rare in the C Suites in our profession. Ban Bossy and Lean In are for us. 

To quote the Ban Bossy home page, “When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a 'leader.' Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded 'bossy.' Words like bossy send a message: don't raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead.”  

Sheryl Sandberg says that last year's  Lean In was written “for the woman who want wants to increase her chances of making it to the top of her field or pursue any goal vigorously.” Ban Bossy seeks to educate and change the culture. 

Lean In addresses things every young woman in our profession should master, like building confidence, handling salary negotiations, and plotting career trajectories. These are also vital topics in AdviceforPRGirls.com, a blog I created to support, empower and celebrate young women starting careers in PR.  Here are a few key takeaways from both:

First, learn! You are not a baby bird. There is no big hand with an eyedropper to feed you every morsel of information, insight and wisdom you need. Confidence comes from the knowledge that you can learn new things whenever you need to. The more you succeed in teaching yourself, the more confident you will become.  Enough women are bedeviled by the infamous Imposter Syndrome – it can end with this generation!

Second, there are still cultural obstacles a woman must overcome when asking for a raise.  Even if these biases don’t make sense, it’s wise to heed them if you want more money. According to Lean In, women should talk about the communal benefit (to the team, the whole company, to womankind) when asking for a raise. And, my favorite phrase in the book, a quote from Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, says that women negotiating need to combine niceness with insistence, being “relentlessly pleasant.” Exactly.

My advice is that saying you need or want more money looks childish. You must show that your raise will be beneficial to the company. Employers will do a lot to keep revenue-producing employees in place. Happily, gender has nothing to do with revenue – revenue produced by a woman is just as valuable as revenue produced by a man. Your pitch is about the value you’re delivering to the company, how you’re committed to a long term partnership with your employer, what you’re excited about contributing going forward. And of course, when you deliver your pitch, you are gracious, positive, professional, clear, assertive and above all, data driven.

The New York Times weighed in on March 24 with a whole package - story and several videos - on the high wire act that negotiating for a raise while female remains. No, it shouldn’t be this hard for a woman to get the compensation she merits in 2014. But pragmatism trumps idealism every time where money is concerned. Until we succeed in changing the world, let’s be as informed and prepared as possible so we can sail across that tightrope and get that money.

PR is a chaotic, demanding profession. Every day, with indefatigable optimism, unshakable perseverance, unholy street smarts and spectacular judgment, young PR women accomplish miracles.  Ban Bossy and Lean In are creating a productive, positive conversation in the culture that will help clear the path for these strong successful young women to reach the top of our field without being called either one of the B words. I can’t wait to see that happen!

Lisa Poulson is principal at the PoseyCorp and before that was global head of tech for Burson-Marsteller. 

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