She’s a young girl with an incredible look of resolve facing the iconic Charging Bull sculpture in Manhattan’s Financial District. “Fearless Girl” was installed on International Women’s Day by State Street Global Advisors as part of the asset managers campaign to increase the number of women on their clients’ corporate boards. The statue touched a nerve and has quickly become a symbol for gender equality. Our office at 4 World Trade is just a short walk to the installation. When I stood there last week, I was reminded once again just how long this battle has been raging. Once a year, as part of National Women’s History Month, we reflect on women’s contributions and how much still needs to be done for women to achieve equality.
National Women’s History Month traces its roots back to March 8, 1857, when women from New York City factories staged a protest over working conditions. International Women’s Day was first observed in 1909, but it wasn’t until 1981 that Congress established National Women’s History Week to be commemorated the second week of March. Then in 1987, Congress expanded the week to a month.
A couple of weeks ago I attended an event that PadillaCRT co-sponsored along with The Museum of Public Relations and the PR Council. Entitled, “PR Women Who Changed History,” the event explored the untold stories of PR professionals who influenced culture, society, politics and business. Ultimately, these trailblazers paved the way for women to enjoy careers previously only open to men.
Shelly Spector, president of Spector & Associates in NY, and founder of the Museum, kicked off the evening reminding us that “It wasn’t so long ago that the only way a woman in PR could get into the C-Suite was to bring in the coffee.” When you interviewed for a job you weren’t asked how well you wrote, but how fast you typed. If you were lucky, you got a job in the steno pool.
It was women like Muriel Fox who helped change that. Fox is an American public relations executive who co-founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) back in 1966 while working 60+ hours a week as the first female PR executive at Carl Byoir. She was one of the women who led the communications effort that introduced the modern women’s movement to the media. She wrote the first press release for Carl Byoir, an achievement that rocked the national women’s movement.
One anecdote Fox shared was that she usually recused herself when clients of her firm became involved in disputes with NOW. However, she jumped in to broker a compromise when NOW threatened a boycott over the lack of female role models on Sesame Street, which was a client of Fox’s firm. She intervened and Sesame Street agreed to make changes, Fox recalled.
What can women do today to push for equality? “Hire them,” Fox replied. “Give them a seat at the table. Then you will see what women can accomplish. You just have to give them a chance.”
The evening also celebrated the contributions of Betsy Plank. A champion of PR education and known as the First Lady of public relations, Betsy achieved so many firsts. Over a career that lasted 63 years, she served as an EVP at Daniel J. Edelman, Inc. (now Edelman) and then became the director of public relations planning at AT&T and later the director of external affairs at Illinois Bell. Her most lasting contribution to PR was co-founding PRSSA, the only organization dedicated to supporting the success of PR students. Now a half century old, PRSSA has more than 11,000 current members and dozens of chapters at colleges and universities throughout the country. Betsy’s legacy also lives on in The Plank Center for Leadership.
An appropriate cap on an evening celebrating women who changed history, The PR Council announced a new initiative, The SHEQUALITY Project, which is designed to help women executives rise in the ranks of public relations agencies.
The initiative is looking to create a consistent pipeline of strong female leaders, mentors and allies, to engender more women leaders and to achieve equality in the top positions at PR firms of all sizes. Take a moment and watch this video which includes footage of the wonderful PR trailblazers and reminds us that we all need to be Fearless Girls.