It’s no secret that women dominate public relations. To commemorate Women’s History Month and celebrate the vital role that women play in the industry, we interviewed two of the best and brightest: Keilley Banks and Christine Skofronick, recent UF public relations graduates and Alpha alumnae.
Banks, an analyst at Gladstone Place Partners, and Skofronick, a communications intern at Downtown Orlando Partnership, shared their experiences as women in public relations, and gave advice for aspiring professionals.
What are some notable experiences that have led you to where you are now?
Both Banks and Skofronick credited immersive experiences at the J-School as invaluable chapters of their journey.
“In college, the most life-changing experience I had was attending the PRSSA International Conferences,” Skofronick said. “At those conferences, you’re able to meet other PR students and learn about types of PR that aren’t mentioned at UF. Most importantly, I got ridiculously inspired. In Gainesville, you’re pretty removed from most, if not all, PR agencies/big companies. Having the chance to learn directly from serious big names in PR made me excited to hit the ground running in my own career.”
“Joining Alpha as soon as I transferred to UF changed the game for me!” Banks said. “Not only did I get experience being a part of a team, but I actually had client experience to talk about in my job interviews for post-grad. Alpha legitimized me as a job candidate. I also co-founded the Black Public Relations Student Society, which allowed me to gain leadership experience and network in a more strategic way.”
What empowers you as a woman in public relations?
“I’m inspired by other women,” Banks said. “Through immersive programs in college, such as Alpha Productions, BPRSS and PRSSA International Conference, I’ve met so many amazing, boss women in our profession. Although they have become my close friends, I still see them as mentors who I can learn from every day.”
Skofronick shared a similar sentiment.
“One of my favorite things about PR is that a majority of PR practitioners are women,” she said. “Seeing fantastic women doing their jobs is so empowering because one day that will be us.”
What progress do you feel that the industry needs to make to lessen the leadership and pay gap? What do you hope for the future?
Although public relations is mostly powered by women, there is an astounding lack of women in leadership positions, and women are often played less for their work. An article from PR News found that while women make up 60-80% of the industry, they account for only one in five higher-level roles.
Skofronick finds this statistic troubling.
“I want to see more women not only leading teams, but leading companies,” she said. “In order for any progress to happen, we will need to normalize what it means to be a woman in a business field. Things like maternity leave, eliminating pay gaps and sexist dress codes all need to change before I will feel like we’re making any progress.”
According to Banks, “We should be paying people what they are actually worth. Period.”
“I think in order to move our industry closer to equality, we should stop glamorizing being overworked and underpaid,” she said. “We should be taught how to negotiate salaries while we’re in college because statistically women are less likely to do so. We should teach how to highlight our skills and value so we are more comfortable having these conversations without the fear of being ‘pushy’ or ‘asking for too much.’ I think this is where a more senior mentor can play an important role.”
Do you feel that it’s important to have a female mentor? Have you had any mentors who have guided and supported you (professors, supervisors, etc.)?
“I think it’s important to have a woman as a mentor because of the unique shared experiences women face in the workplace,” Banks said. “However, I also think it’s important to have at least one male mentor or someone who identifies differently than you because they may be able to offer you a different perspective to an issue you may be having.”
Skofronick recalled several women who have supported her.
“One of my best friends and peer mentors is Andrea Mora, a former UF PRSSA VP of Chapter Development. I like to say that she’s the only other person I trust my career with,” she said. “Another mentor is Angela Walters Eveillard, APR. I met her through a PRSA/PRSSA mentorship program.”
What is your advice to aspiring female PR professionals as they prepare to enter the workplace?
Skofronick stressed the importance of believing in yourself and your abilities.
“Imposter syndrome is very real and very limiting,” she said. “Even if you feel like you’re not qualified for a position or brave enough to move to a new city by yourself, I promise that you can do it. The job search is overwhelming enough without COVID, so take breaks when you need them and use your PRSSA/Alpha networks to keep yourself sane.”
Banks’ advice: “Be confident, observant and use your identity as a strength. You bring value to every team you are on. Your perspective is important. Do not be afraid to voice your opinion if it’s different from others.”
Women’s History Month serves as a reminder that women are instrumental to public relations. Although there is still progress to be made in the fight for gender equity in the industry, it is empowering to know that the future of public relations is in the hands of bright, capable women like Keilley Banks and Christine Skofronick.