A Qualitative Examination of Gender and Power in Public Relations
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Gender and power shape the practice of public relations. Gender contributes to power differences which may, in turn, influence an individual's strategic decisions and communication styles. Because male and female public relations practitioners make meaning of their roles as public relations practitioners differently (Grunig, Toth & Hon, 2001; Krider & Ross, 1997), looking at the profession from the viewpoint of women - and women only - provides unique insight into these differences. The purpose of this study was to examine qualitatively how women public relations practitioners make meaning of gender and power. Additionally, the study examined the overlap of gender and power and the implications they hold for professional practice. Whereas previous public relations scholarship has examined the concepts of gender and power separately, the secondary purpose of the study sought to examine these phenomena together. Literature regarding gender, gender theory of public relations, power, power-control theory contributed to this study. From the literature, three research questions were posed: How do women public relations practitioners make meaning of gender? How do public relations practitioners make meaning of power? and What are the intersections of gender and power in public relations? To best illustrate and describe how women public relations practitioners experience the phenomena of gender and power, I chose a qualitative research method which utilized 45 in-depth, semi-structured, face-to-face interviews with women public relations practitioners guided by an interview protocol. I utilized a grounded theory approach to data analysis. From the data, arose several themes regarding gender, power and their nexus. Results suggested that women practitioners made meaning of gender through contrasting definitions, as a function of a feminized public relations industry, as a function of pregnancy, childbirth and family responsibilities, through expectations and discrimination, and as an intersectional phenomenon involving one's race, age and geography. Participants made meaning of power as a function of influence, a function of relationships, knowledge and information, access, results-based credibility, negative force and empowerment. Women practitioners communicated that gender and power intersected through use of gendered appearances, management style, women's bonding together for power, the queen bee syndrome, leadership, women's self realization and confidence in their choices, and education of others. The data extend our understanding of gender theory of relations and power-control theory of public relations. Results suggest that gender, for public relations practitioners, exists as a socialized and learned phenomenon. Power in public relations exists in a system and empowerment serves as an alternative meaning making model of power. Evidence suggests that gender and power do intersect in the meaning making of practitioners and that future research must focus on examining this overlap and educating students and professionals about gender and gender discrimination.