Women in Public Relations
The public relations field is a female-dominant workforce. Women comprise 70% of the field but only 30% of senior leadership roles. This disproportionate statistic is hard to swallow. While a PR intern at Castle, I spoke to two women in leadership in the agency’s PR division to learn about their experiences getting to this point in their careers and advice to young women on how they can do it too.
Career Advice on entering the field of Public Relations
Sandy Lish, Principal & Co-founder
Castle Co-founder and Principal Sandy Lish started the agency with Co-founder Wendy Spivak in 1996. Before founding Castle, she worked at a large ad agency with a small PR department. Lish had a mixture of male and female bosses throughout her career, but most of her colleagues were women.
“There definitely were times that I experienced misogyny in various places and times in my career, both from people I was networking with and people that were my bosses,” she said. For example, at 24, a boss told her, “You have two things working against you, you’re young and a woman.” Though she believes the person behind that awkward line was trying to empower her, it felt demeaning.
After founding Castle, people often approached male employees around her age, assuming they were the co-founder and not her. Lish figures they thought, “he’s the man; he must be in charge.”
Throughout her career, Lish has faced imposter syndrome and struggled with not having the confidence or, as she puts it, “balls” to speak up. However, she overcame this by learning about her style and thinking of how she could feel like her most confident self. This means leaning into her authenticity and openly sharing the challenges and successes of being a female leader. “Whatever makes you feel confident may not be what makes me feel confident,” she says. “Getting to know your style and preferences and then working with them is a way to be confident, but it takes time to figure out what that is.”
Some of the best advice Lish has received throughout her career is that no one remembers your mistakes. “No one’s thinking about you as much as you’re thinking about you,” she says. To her, an error can be a learning experience, not an existential crisis.
Another mantra that has guided Lish is that “no just means not right now.” In a field where rejection happens regularly, she believes it’s helpful not to take anything personally and revisit an idea later if it’s shot down at first. “You have to reach out to people and ask for what you want,” said Lish.
Castle fosters an understanding culture, and its leaders recognize that caregiving responsibilities often fall primarily on women. “You don’t have to be a parent to have things you need to deal with outside of work,” Lish says. “You can have many things, but there is not always a perfect work-life balance. Something always has to give…, and we recognize it can’t be equal all the time.” Lish says she and Spivak try to set good examples of this for the team and employ a leadership style that is understanding of people’s needs outside of work.
Hilary Allard, Managing Director
Hilary Allard is the Managing Director of The Castle Group. Throughout her career, she has worked for many small, women-owned businesses, a fact she takes immense pride in. However, before working at Castle, where she has been for the past 18 years, she didn’t feel like her employers focused much on their employees.
“When I first started working, frankly, there was not much emphasis or priority on what I would call culture,” she says. “It was sort of like, you get a job, and it’s your job.” Liking it, she says, was beside the point. At Castle, she is proud of the flexible schedule and the leadership’s empathy for things happening outside of work. Moreover, she shared that as a working mother, you are expected to do everything in your career and personal life, and “no one ever asks about being a working dad.” Finally, she echoed Lish’s thoughts on work-life balance and said, “some days you get it right at home, and some days you get it right at work,” adding that you may not get the balance right every single day and shouldn’t expect to.
Allard’s most important lesson is to speak up for oneself when you have something to say. She said girls are raised to be nice, but there is a difference between being nice and being a pushover. Allard has learned these skills over time by attending women-in-business events and creating a network of women to watch and learn from. “It’s always interesting to hear people’s stories because everyone started somewhere, and that can be inspiring,” she says.
The Value of Confidence, Equity, and a Professional Female Network
As a young woman entering the public relations workforce, I have completed two internships at women-owned PR agencies. In speaking with Castle’s senior leadership, I have learned that to get to these high positions; women need to know there is a place for them. Talking with the women of Castle, I realized that confidence is vital to this, and having a professional female network is critical for handling challenging situations you may face throughout your career. I appreciate that at Castle, equity is seen as a pillar of the organization. As I move into the workforce, I will look to work at places that also value this. And if they don’t, I’ll be happy to speak up.