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“It’s about being noisy and over-sharing” … our very own Jo Carr speaks out as she takes up the WIPR presidency
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17th June 2023

“It’s about being noisy and over-sharing” … our very own Jo Carr speaks out as she takes up the WIPR presidency

The newly appointed president of Women in PR, Jo Carr, speaks to PRWeek about what the industry should do to promote gender equity.

“I want everyone to know, if they want to have a lengthy career in the PR industry it’s about breaking down some barriers,” explains the newly appointed president of Women in PR (WiPR), Jo Carr, speaking to PRWeek ahead of International Women’s Day. 

“There is discrimination based on gender, race, age and other factors. Women in our industry have to deal with one ‘ism’ or another, and that isn’t right. I think each of them [women] has different barriers to overcome,” argues Carr. 

With almost three decades in the industry, she understands the challenges women face in PR. Her earlier experience at Seventy Seven PR, where she served as managing partner, led Carr to establish her own company with James Gordon-MacIntosh at the end of 2011. 

Today, she’s co-founder and chief client officer at Hope&Glory PR, one of the most-awarded agencies in the sector, which employs nearly 90 members of staff and boasts clients such as Ikea, Airbnb, Uber and LinkedIn.

When Carr began her PR career, all the senior members of the board were male.

“If we went back 20, 30, 40 years ago, I think women who rose to the top had to be pretty ballsy to do it. And when they got to the top, they didn’t necessarily want to share. I think now you’ve got a generation of female leaders who want more,” she explains.

When it comes to tackling inequality in the workplace today, Carr thinks women in PR should “overshare” and voice their feelings. She feels key issues aren’t talked about and, as a result, people don’t know or understand them. 

“Being a woman in PR is about being noisy and oversharing,” she says. “We have messy lives. We have kids, we have partners, we have cats, dogs, whatever… and that now comes into the workplace.”

However, this wasn’t the case when Carr started out in PR. To her, the industry didn’t seem to offer “human interaction”. But now, she believes women’s candour is “encouraging” because people are speaking about inequality, “which means things will start to change”. She adds that honesty in the workplace creates “more opportunities to be yourself”.

Carr argues that “everyday sexism erodes confidence” and, in order to work through uncomfortable experiences, women should lean into them.

Agencies should also take a harder stance on discrimination and should be reporting their gender and ethnicity pay gaps, adds Carr. “If you don’t measure those things, then you don’t have a handle on the problem.”

Carr also calls on agencies and businesses to speak out against bad behaviour in the sector. Even if a client has paid money, if a person has made someone feel uncomfortable, Carr strongly believes they should be held accountable.

“Be an anti-sexist as well as an anti-racist organisation. Be prepared to fire a client or sanction or dismiss a colleague if inappropriate behaviour takes place. We [Hope&Glory] have done this at least twice,” she adds.

Women in PR

As president of WiPR, which addresses gender imbalance in the PR industry, Carr backs the organisation’s aim to increase the number and diversity of women in positions of leadership across the sector.

study from the PRCA in 2021 found that 64 per cent of practitioners in the industry are women, but they hold only 36 per cent of senior roles such as board directors or partners.

“There are many qualified and awesome women on the committee,” explains Carr, adding that many of the women on the WiPR committee hold senior positions with various lived experiences.

Carr says she wants to continue the fight sustained over the past 60 years by past presidents including Angela Oakes, Susan Hardwick, Mary Whenman, Bibi Hilton, Anna Geffert and the committees that supported them.

However, it’s not just about addressing gender imbalance. WiPR also wants to shed light on ageism in the sector. According to the annual index released by the Global Women in PR, two-thirds of women currently working in PR agencies could not see themselves being there beyond the age of 50. 

“It’s a travesty that too many brilliant women fall out of our industry as sometimes the challenges feel too difficult to navigate, especially alone,” says Carr. 

As a direct response to the ageism issue, WiPR launched its 45 Over 45 List, which takes place every two years to recognise talented women in the industry over the age of 45.

Reflecting on ageism in the sector, Carr says agencies and businesses need mature woman in their companies. “If you want to reach that audience, you need women in your team who have that lived experience, who can share insights,” she argues.

“I think [the study] was important because it shows that many women have managed to stay longer in this period, who aren’t about to be packed off to retirement homes. They know we’ve got lots to give, still lots of energy,” added Carr.

The rise of the female CEO

From Carr’s perspective, PR boards are becoming more balanced and diverse, and with many women in PR now taking on senior roles, she is confident this trend will continue.

Although the Hope&Glory board is 60 per cent female, she admits there’s plenty more to be done.

“If you look at the generation of female leaders we have now, it’s a different group than perhaps 20 or 30 years ago. I’m pretty friendly with lots of other either agency heads or heads of other teams. I think we’re all trying to learn from each other. I’m not sure that always happens,” Carr adds.

However, she acknowledges that the workplace is becoming “more open to people bringing their entire selves to work, even their emotions” and that “you shouldn’t be different here [at work] than at home”.

Balance

Commenting on managing a work-life balance, Carr affirms it’s a challenge. “Our work is 24/7. With our deadlines, we’re always on. It’s challenging to be rigid, but I think if you have some boundaries in place, you’ll be fine – and that includes having small children, and knowing there are times when you’re just not available,” she explains.

When Carr was pregnant with her first child 19 years ago, her company maternity leave was statutory. She admits to fighting against the PR holding company she worked for at the time for a more generous allowance, but says she felt guilty because she was the exception and not the rule.

As a result of that experience, Carr strongly feels that every woman should have a better maternity deal, not just those in senior roles. Now, she ensures Hope&Glory’s parental policies are published on the agency’s website, allowing anyone applying for a job or attending an interview to know in advance what the business offers.

“We’ve got an HR consultant who comes in, and she takes everybody through their parental policies. This is so they know what the legal requirements are and that this could be enhanced,” said Carr.

Looking forward

Although the sector has increased its pace and flexibility in recent years due to technological advancements, PR remains fundamentally about insights, ideas and building relationships, says Carr.

Reflecting on the importance of International Women’s Day, Carr has no doubt that “we’ve got to think about these things every day”.

The fear of being judged or taken less seriously often prevents women from asking important questions, says Carr.

“Let’s avoid that,” she adds. “I think we need to get better as an industry at acknowledging the differences among us and supporting each other to thrive.”

This article first appeared on PR Week

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