Gender Differences Deepen, Grades Slide in Report Card on PR Leaders

In 2015, The University of Alabama’s Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and Heyman Associates produced its first Report Card on PR Leaders.

Leaders earned passing grades for the five areas examined—leadership performance, job engagement, trust in the organization, work culture and job satisfaction—but crucial gaps highlighted areas for improvement.

Nearly 1,200 PR leaders and professionals in the U.S. recently completed the same survey.

Grades for leadership performance and trust were unchanged in 2017, but slipped for work culture, job engagement and job satisfaction. The overall grade for PR leaders fell from B-to C+. Gaps between leaders’ and employees’ perceptions of the five areas remained wide, while gender differences deepened.

Women in public relations were significantly less engaged, less satisfied with their jobs, less confident in their work cultures, less trusting of their organizations and more critical of top leaders than men.

Previous concerns about two-way communication, shared decision-making and diversity were again underscored by men and women.

“Social tensions in our world today have likely exacerbated these issues,” said Bill Heyman, CEO and president of Heyman Associates, a co-sponsor of the study. “We need to be bigger leaders to close these gaps.”

The Grades

Performance of the Top Leader (A-/C+)

Leaders’ and their employees’ perceptions of the top leader’s performance again differed sharply: Leaders gave themselves an A-, while followers gave them a C+.

“This gap doesn’t necessarily mean leaders are ineffective,” said Dr. Juan Meng, a co-investigator from the University of Georgia. “Employees may be upset about other issues in their lives or unhappy with a recent assignment. But closing the gap is important because leaders influence all other issues in our study.” 

Job Engagement (B-)

The grade fell from a B+ in 2015 because fewer professionals were engaged. In 2017, 57.2 percent of respondents were engaged (vs. 59.7 percent in 2015); 35.9 percent were not engaged (vs 34.4 percent); and 6.8 percent were actively disengaged (vs. 6.0 percent).

Trust in the Organization (C+)

Trust in the organization again received the lowest grade. Professionals trusted their organization’s capabilities to compete successfully and achieve its goals but expressed less trust in their organizations to keep promises and to be concerned about employees when making important decisions.

Job Satisfaction (C+)

This grade dropped from a B- in 2015 as the percentage of those satisfied or very satisfied with their job declined from 66.7 percent to 61.9 percent. The percentage of those dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their jobs rose from 22.1 percent to 24.1 percent while those neither satisfied nor dissatisfied rose from 11.2 percent to 14.0 percent.

Organizational Culture (C+)

Culture refers to the internal environment, processes and structures that help or impede communication practices. This grade fell from a B- in 2015. The CEO’s understanding and valuing of public relations was rated highly, while that of other functional leaders was rated lower.

Three Crucial Gaps Need Attention

  1. The perceptions of top leaders and their employees. Top leaders rated their performance and all other areas significantly higher than their employees. Leaders at all levels can benefit from relying less on the transmission mode and more on the reception mode when communicating with employees.     
  2. Existing culture and a culture for communication. Issues like the lack of two-way communication, limited power sharing and diversity concerns point to differences between existing cultures and a rich communication system sometimes referred to as a culture for communication.  
  3. Perceptions of women and men in the profession. The gender gap deepened in the 2017 survey in every subject area. Women’s perceptions of their lack of shared power in decision making, insufficient two-way communication, and devaluing of their opinions are reflected in lower levels of trust in the organization and its culture, less confidence in leaders and declining job engagement.

“The purpose of this biennial report is to assess leadership in PR and identify enrichment opportunities,” said Dr. Bruce K. Berger, co-investigator and research director of the Plank Center at The University of Alabama. “If we identify the gaps and work to close them, we strengthen our profession’s leadership—a crucial strategic asset. The 2017 Report Card underscores the continuing gaps and the need to act.”

A full report of the research is available at:

About The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations

In 2005, The University of Alabama Board of Trustees established The Plank Center. Named for public relations leader and UA alumna, the late Betsy Plank, the Center develops and recognizes outstanding diverse public relations leaders, role models and mentors to advance ethical public relations in an evolving, global society through a variety of initiatives. More information about the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations can be found at

About Heyman Associates

Heyman Associates and its colleagues – Taylor  Bennett in London, joint venture Taylor Bennett Heyman in Asia and GK Personalberatung in Frankfurt – bring together nearly 60 years of  experience placing top communications and public affairs talent in executive positions at high-profile  corporations, foundations and academic institutions across North America, Europe, the Middle East and  the Asia-Pacific region.


Jessika White, 205-348-7250,


Rand Nelson, 205-348-6416,

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.