This chapter examines the experiences of female public relations practitioners in Australia in order to understand the impact of professionalization and feminization on both the identities of individual female practitioners and the industry’s professional identity and status. We focus on these experiences during the 1980s because this decade represented a pivotal period for the Australian public relations industry, in which women entered public relations practice in greater numbers and ﬁrst came to dominate the industry numerically (Rea 2002; Zawawi 2009). Reﬂective of large-scale transformations in the gendering of work in the Western world, this ‘feminization’ of public relations is partly attributable to the rise of second-wave feminism, and the consequent entry of increasing numbers of women into the paid workforce (Fitch and Third 2010). At the same time, the status and role of public relations as an occupational practice was rapidly transforming. It gained increasing recognition in the corporate sector, and its domain expanded beyond media relations to include such areas as government relations, investor relations, and corporate communication. This period also witnessed, as part of broader attempts to improve the professional standing of the industry, the increasing introduction of public relations to universities as a programme of study, and the implementation of practitioner examinations by the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA). These twin processes of feminization and professionalization have framed professional discourses around public relations, and the gendering of the ﬁeld continues to have a signiﬁcant impact on its professional identity. Considering the personal experiences of women practitioners during this
decade allows us to understand how the gendered tensions shaping the public relations industry intersected with its increasing professionalization. We draw on interviews with women who were involved in the public relations industry in Australia during this time. We asked participants to reﬂect upon their everyday experiences as practitioners and their perceptions of the impact of gender on their careers. This approach enabled us to reﬂect upon the ways in which feminization and professionalization have impacted on individual female public relations practitioners’ identities. Further, the
analysis of this data provides a window on how those same processes have impacted upon the identity of the public relations profession.