Why are there so many women working in public relations?

This is where the women-in-PR conversation gets uncomfortable and squirmy. The idea that women are somehow “naturally” more social, collaborative, or chipper, and that this leads them organically into a PR career, is a message that could use the palliative touch of a Don Draper or Peggy Olson. Or as a PR person might say, I have some exciting findings to share with you, direct from a sociological minefield.

There is some evidence that women tend to be more collaborative, participative, and pro-social than men are—but that’s impossible to untangle from our societal expectation that they be that way. Women have only been found to talk more than men when they’re in collaborative settings. Women are expected to be happier and to smile more than men. Subjects in clinical studies will more readily identify androgynous, angry-looking faces as male, but they will view androgynous happy faces as female. People will consider female leaders effective when they demonstrate both sensitivity and strength, but the male leaders need only to demonstrate strength. The only way to get study subjects to rate two fictional, identical executives named “Susan” and “James” similarly is if “Susan” hints that she makes efforts to “promote a positive community.”

Women may be drawn to PR because they feel they’re collaborative and social, but we’ve also socialized most of our women to be that way.