"Throughout history, there have been various gaps: racial, gender, income, education, skills gaps...society today is not any different"(Andrews, 2017). Despite advances to close these gaps, a large gap still remains in communications leadership: the gender gap. Approximately 75 percent of practitioners are female and female practitioners only make up 20 percent of senior-level positions (Oakes & Hardwick, 2017). Existing research suggests there are several reasons why a gap exists: an unconscious bias that favors male leaders (Devillard, Hunt, & Yee, 2018), only 60 percent of women have the confidence they can advance into leadership positions (KPMG, 2018), lack of mentorship (Place & Vardeman-Winter, 2018), lack of exposure to female leaders (Arvate, Galilea, & Todescat, In Press), and the balance of personal and work responsibilities (Krivkovich, et al., 2017). This study employed 32 qualitative in-depth interviews with senior level communications leaders to understand the journey that women and men go through to become communications leaders, perceptions of communications leaders, factors contributing to the gender gap, and ultimately what can be done to close the gender gap. Participants of this study are among some of today's most senior-level communications leaders, with the average participant having 29 years of work experience in the field of communications. Multiple themes were identified for when and why individuals begin aspiring for communications leadership but it usually begins sometime during high school, college, or in the first few jobs after college once they have be experienced some form of leadership for the first time. There are certain factors such as unequal expectations for women and men and organization culture that can make a woman's path more difficult than a man's path. The majority of participants agreed that women and men are viewed differently in the workplace and that there are key differences such as sensitivity to and involvement of others that differentiate women from a men. There were seven primary themes identified as factors that contributing to the gender gap: relationships, unique challenges to women, issues in the communications field, a long history of male dominance, the pay gap is fueling the gender gap, lack of awareness of the gender gap, sexual harassment and sexual assault. Additionally, this study introduces multiple ways to help mitigate factors that are contributing to the gender gap. There were three primary thematic areas identified on ways to mitigate the gender gap: organizational mitigating factors, cultural mitigating factors, and personal mitigating factors. In summary, there are a number of reasons why a woman's journey into communications leadership is more difficult than a man's journey; however, there are many actionable things that communications leaders believe can be done to make it easier for future leaders.



College and Department

Fine Arts and Communications; Communications



Date Submitted


Document Type





gender gap, communications, leadership, career path, qualitative interviews, biases



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Fine Arts Commons