This blog is based on the original journal article in the Public Relations Journal

A focus on supporting young women during the early-career phase could be the key to advancement of women in public relations.

The early career phase—the first five years of full-time employment—is a pivotal phase in one’s career journey that influences their future career trajectory and advancement. Early career socialization experiences shape and set career expectations and influence future career aspirations in positive or negative ways. While past public relations research points to structural and organizational barriers to leadership advancement for women in public relations, little is known about how and if early-career women are proactive agents in their organizational socialization experiences.

Research Purpose and Industry Impact
The purpose of this study was to understand how young women self-managed their careers during the organizational socialization process to create a strong career foundation and pursue opportunities for career advancement.

Findings offer a framework for empowering young women to self-manage their career paths that lead to leadership advancement. Additionally, organizations that support young women early in their careers could see these efforts pay off in increased engagement, loyalty, and retention.

Method
Researchers conducted 31 interviews with early-career women in public relations and related roles. The interviews were geared toward understanding the respondents’ organizational socialization experiences and how they utilized newcomer proactivity behaviors to effectively acclimate to their organizations and new roles.

Key Findings
Young women’s socialization experiences are marked by age insecurities and complex emotions. Participants were concerned about being perceived as young in the workplace, which prevented them from advocating for themselves and asking for clarification about their roles. They experienced a range of emotions, which were heightened as participants grappled with shaping their professional identity that was separate from–but also had to work within–their organizational environments.

Candid discussions with middle-managers and peers about emotions and the complex transition into becoming a full-time working professional could help normalize this experience, creating a sense of acceptance and camaraderie in the workplace.

Women in management have the power to influence a positive acclimation experience. Young women are constantly watching and learning from women managers and women in executive positions. Study participants learned to emulate their manager’s soft skills, such as speaking up effectively during meetings, which contributed to a strong career foundation and sense of career confidence.

Female managers can serve as role models for young women by inviting them to sit in on phone calls or through informal discussions about leadership experiences and business operations.

Intentional relationship development with organizational peers and leaders, as well as external professional networking, can position young women for future success. Participants developed relationships with their peers to have others that could empathize with their situations and to troubleshoot ideas before presenting them to managers. This peer network remained intact even as they went to work for other organizations and was used to learn about new professional opportunities. They built relationships with people in authority to gain a better understanding of the “inside workings” of the organization from a business perspective, which made them well-positioned for promotion.

In terms of relationship building outside of their organizations, just five percent of participants were proactively building a professional network and explained that this is one of the most important things young professionals can do to advance in their careers; it is key for developing a professional reputation.

University public relations programs and professional associations should emphasize professional relationship development as a way to earn influence and increase the likelihood of future promotions. Professional associations should work toward developing a “bridge” between the student and professional level to ensure young women don’t miss out on networking opportunities during the critical first five years of their careers.

Participants advocated for themselves and intentionally developed their confidence for role negotiation and positive framing. Participants who felt siloed in certain roles practiced using a confident, assertive voice to take on different projects that were more in line with their professional aspirations. Confidence development also occurred through challenging situations that participants framed for themselves as opportunities to grow and get attention and recognition from leadership. These experiences helped them view future challenging situations in a more positive, opportunistic manner.

Those in a position to teach and lead future public relations professionals should help them understand that challenge and adversity is part of the learning and professionalization process.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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