Summer Reading: PR Women with Influence

A downside of writing your own book is that you don’t read many others while you’re crashing on content and deadlines.

As soon as colleague Matt Ragas and I completed and launched our third book, I picked up these three books by friends that I wanted to read and consider for possible texts in my classes at DePaul:

PR Women with Influence by Juan Meng and Marlene S. Neill

Marilyn: A Woman in Charge by Dick Martin

You Are Enough by Charlene Wheeless

Since it was the first of the three books published, I began with Dick Martin’s incredibly insightful biography about the late Marilyn Laurie, a communications legend. Fittingly, Dick kept the title simple since every senior pro in the U.S. knows who he’s talking about when he simply says Marilyn: A Woman in Charge.

Although I had planned another text for my spring leadership course, I switched to Dick’s book since it is loaded with real-world ethical, professional and personal challenges that Marilyn Laurie brilliantly met head on. Student responses to the book were all positive with several saying they were inspired and thankful for her trailblazing efforts. “Marilyn had grit, intelligence and courage,” observed one student. “I am happy Mr. Martin introduced her story because we all need to know her.”

Currently, I’m halfway through Charlene Wheeless’ powerful personal story about her battle with cancer, while being a mother, wife and always-under-pressure chief communications officer. Now a consultant and public speaker, Charlene zoomed into my class last month to discuss her life experience and her current role as chair of the Arthur W. Page Society. You will read more about Charlene and her book when we post an interview with her conducted by one of my grad students.

It wasn’t until PR Women with Influence arrived in the mail earlier this month that I realized my latest reading was singularly focused on books by or about women. “It’s about time,” a female student asserted as she noted that women hold a majority of jobs in the public relations profession.

Besides being important from a diversity, equity and inclusion perspective (DEI), PR Women with Influence is a must-read for men and women responsible for managing talent in our profession. It also might help improve the average grades PR executives have been receiving from the biennial Plank Center Report Card.

Fortunately, the profession appears to be paying more serious attention to issues involving diversity, equity and inclusion. PR organizations have increased their commitment to making real progress, rather than simply paying lip service to the issue. PR leaders formed The Diversity Action Alliance to help them drive “meaningful and tangible results.”

“It is undeniably encouraging to see the industry is responding to the call to actively address the issue of diversity, equity and inclusion not only at the level of discussion, but more critically, in action,” said Juan Meng, lead author of PR Women with Influence, associate professor at the University of Georgia and Plank Center board member.

Asked to comment on recent promotions of women leaders within agencies, Juan told me: “Despite the slight increase in numbers of women taking top leadership roles such as Susan Howe being named president of Weber Shandwick, the representation of women, especially women of color and other minorities, in the highest levels of leadership in the PR sector still has a long way to go. There is a lot more to be done to end the gendered gap in top leadership not only in this country but also in the global PR industry. By sharing some recent research findings, we hope our book offer a better understanding of the issue of gender inequality from multiple aspects.”

Mentorship is a key component of success on the DEI front, which is confirmed in all three books and PR Women with Influence co-author Marlene S. Neill agrees.

“What I found so helpful about our study is these successful women provided practical advice for young women on topics like how to advocate for yourself in a respectful manner, how do you approach a potential mentor, and what approaches can you use to provide counsel to someone who outranks you,” explains Marlene, who is associate professor at Baylor University and Fellow PRSA.  “While our study is grounded in public relations and leadership theories, there are plenty of personal stories that answer the question of how I can personally do this successfully – actionable insights.”

PR Women with Influence, Marilyn and You Are Enough are three important books worth adding to your summer reading list.  –Ron Culp

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