Women’s History Month gives us time to reflect on all the incredible contributions made by women in the public relations industry over the years. While there have been many trailblazing communicators in history like Betsy Plank, our recent #FridayForum featured three women at Roku who gave us a glimpse into how they started their careers and what it’s like being a woman in PR today.
Everyone has a unique story on what encouraged them to pursue a career in PR. For some, it may have been their passion for writing and storytelling, as was the case for our panelist and Senior Manager of Communications at Roku Abby Reyes. For others, it may have been pure fate, as was the case for Seana Sullivan, Roku Senior Director of Global PR and Social Media Marketing, who said she “stumbled into PR, it was not something I had my eye on.”
Whatever the case, this profession is one that gives people of all experiences a chance to thrive by allowing them the opportunity to leverage their own unique qualities. Gretel Perera, Director of PR, Latin America at Roku, says that over the years she has honed the special attributes she brings as a trilingual woman raised in Venezuela.
“I didn’t know those were advantages for me,” Gretel said. She went on to urge the audience to find their niche to help them enhance the work they do and add to their unique value.
Mentorships, networking important for career growth
One common theme across Friday’s conversation was the importance of mentorship.
“Sometimes you don’t realize you have people pushing you and mentoring you,” Gretel said about her experience gaining valuable advice from past managers she now realizes were mentors.
Not all mentors are found through formalized programs – sometimes your best mentors can be the people you learn from on a daily basis. Seana shared a valuable lesson she learned from a mentor: the importance of being authentic when building relationships. “Authenticity and transparency go a long way as you grow your team or mentor somebody,” she said.
The panelists also gave advice to young professionals who want to build their network in this new remote environment. They said forums like Clubhouse and LinkedIn are valuable tools to authentically meet and connect with professionals who can later become mentors.
Seana also suggested looking into organizations that are built for networking, such as PRSA and Latinas in Tech, a non-profit organization co-founded by Gretel with the mission to connect, support and empower Latina women working in tech. Seana said that being active in organizations outside of work allowed her to expand her network, and this is something young professionals looking to build their network in a remove environment can do, too.
“Volunteer and get active,” she said.
No matter which avenue you choose, it’s important for mentees to be persistent. Gretel mentioned it’s easy for emails from prospective mentees to get lost in the multitude of work-related emails she receives every day. She emphasized following up.
Working hard means taking risks
As women in PR, taking risks is part of the job. While women are over-represented in the industry, they represent less than 30% of those in leadership positions. It’s not surprising for women working in-house to find themselves in a room full of men and feel like they need to speak louder just to have their opinions considered.
For our panelist, risk taking did not come naturally. It was an acquired skill over the years. Gretel said that when entering a meeting, it’s important to be prepared and stick to your gut feelings. This strategy helped her take up space and feel heard in meetings.
“Never think that what you’re doing is small,” said Abby.
As PR professionals, we’re brought into teams to share our unique insight into the work we do for our clients. Any idea we bring forward has the possibility of being the seed that grows to bigger things.
What’s next for the next generation of women in PR?
Abby, Gretel and Seana gave us a glimpse into what it’s like to be a woman in PR today. They also shared some valuable lessons that can help guide the next wave of women looking to build their careers in this industry.
First, it starts with growing your network. All of our panelists mentioned that past connections are what introduced them to their next role. Some of them would not be at Roku today if it wasn’t for their network.
Second, feeling empowered to take risks requires confidence. Take the leap when it comes to sharing your creative ideas during team meetings no matter how small the idea may seem. Being successful and accelerating your career as a young professional means raising your voice. While this may not be a skill all women have early in their careers, it’s one that can be learned through experience and positive mentors.
“Having strong female influences [has] encouraged me to speak up,” Abby said.