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Women in PR getting bold for change

In this week’s column, our guest writer, Tapuwa Nduku-Makurumure, celebrates the achievements of women in business and how public relations is helping to highlight these in Zimbabwe.

public relations with Tapuwa Nduku-Makurumure

There is need to fight for the right for women public relations officers to have representation on boards
There is need to fight for the right for women public relations officers to have representation on boards

International Women’s Day has been officially celebrated annually from as early as 1911. For the past 106 years, women have been publicly agitating for change, recognition, inclusion and gender parity in political, social and economic spheres.

The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report of 2016 reveals that female talent remains one of the most under-utilised business resources, either squandered through lack of progression or untapped from the onset.

“Business leaders and governments increasingly note that tackling barriers to equality can unlock new opportunities for growth,” says the report.

It also notes that it will take sub-Saharan Africa another estimated 79 years to achieve gender parity.

While Section 17 of our Constitution provides the framework for gender equality, and stipulates that: “The state must promote full gender balance in Zimbabwean society”, our country is ranked 56 out of 144 countries, with a score of 0.710, where 0 reflects imparity and one parity.

In the areas of access to financial services, technology, primary education and the right to vote, Zimbabwe had a perfect score. The full country profile can be found at http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/economies/#economy=ZWE

This is a moderately positive development and in support of these endeavours, there have been exerted efforts from local Business Membership Organisations (BMO’s) to empower women in business.

Notably, the Institute of Directors Zimbabwe is advocating for increased consideration and placement of women on boards. This recognises the fact that there is a positive correlation between the proportion of women in executive committees and corporate performance. Women also bring in different and complementary perspectives and different leadership styles.

The Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce Women’s Desk, who in partnership with WEConnect, are empowering and promoting women-owned businesses by educating, registering, and certifying women’s business enterprises that are at least 51% owned, managed and controlled by one or more women.

The communication of these advancements towards gender parity has phenomenally increased since the advent of social media. Info-graphics, creative and engaging content leading to extensive discussions, have become the order of the day.

It is encouraging to see organisations embracing and implementing policies that see more women in leadership roles and taking on jobs in formerly “predominantly male spaces”. These organisations have invested in public relations to positively profile phenomenal women who have broken down patriarchal barriers.

We see more and more women who are CEO’s, politicians, financial experts, educational gurus, health specialists, lawyers, engineers, mechanics, pilots, being profiled as high achievers.

It is through public relations that an institution’s progression towards achieving gender parity is communicated to its various publics — regulatory authorities, shareholders, investors, employees, customers, partners and the public.

This positive profiling leads to an increase in visibility and in conjunction with good corporate governance and solid performance, an increase in brand equity and positive reputation. It is also through media relations (traditional and digital), that an organisation’s successes, challenges and solutions towards gender equality may be shared.

It is quite distressing to note that an important profession as public relations is not recognised as an integral part of most organisations’ success equation. Public relations practitioners, have found themselves nested under marketing, or seen as a function of the human resources or customer care departments.

It is imperative for all organisations to re-look the significance of public relations and how it plays a critical role in government, investor, media and other stakeholder relations. Public relations goes beyond writing press releases, speeches or producing content for newsletters, websites and social media.

Public relations is key to an organisation’s reputation management, it is the main driver in policy and strategy development. Public relations makes a critical contribution to management policy and crisis preparedness. It deserves a seat in executive committees and boards because of the crucial counsel it provides on strategy, social media policy, and corporate social investment.

The conundrum of public relations practitioners, however, is the profession’s ability to communicate and actively engage communities around an organisations purpose, activities and successes, while failing to do the same for its own industry.

We are yet to honour our own phenomenal women public relations professionals. There is the need to fight for the right for women public relations officers or executives to have representation in the C-suite and to sit on boards.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, #BeBoldForChange, is a wake-up call for the industry. It is time for women to be bold and celebrate their own successes. It is time for us women in public relations to stand proud and showcase who we are and how far we have come.

Tapuwa Nduku-Makurumure is a public relations consultant with an internationally affiliated communications firm. She can be contacted via e-mail at tapuwa@vividbranding.co.zw

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