Dr. Juan Meng is an associate professor of public relations in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. Dr. Meng’s teaching areas include public relations campaigns, research insights and analytics, global PR and cross-cultural leadership in PR.
Please summarize your professional career and its high and low points. (How did you work your way up the ladder? What have you learned along the way? What factors most contributed to your success?)
I had a relatively brief professional career working in media relations in Shanghai, China before I moved to the U.S. I would describe the majority of my professional career sits in higher education. As a scholar in public relations, I dedicate my professional career in research, teaching and community service. My research expertise and interests center on leadership in public relations. For the many leadership research projects that I have led or been involved, they truly foster the understanding and discussion on the meaning and the role of leadership in public relations practice. High points in my professional career including building cultural and experiential learning experience for my students, setting up international collaboration on various research projects, developing global engagement and outreach through partnerships for an enriched learning experience for students, and fostering conversations between the academia and the industry on how we can prepare future leaders.
I earned my doctorate degree in 2009 so this year marks my tenth year in building my career and network in higher education. I have learned a lot along the way by working and collaborating with many talented and dedicated researchers and leaders globally. I feel very fortunate to have many opportunities to work on those amazing leadership research projects and be connected to many industry leaders in public relations here in the U.S. and globally. Such experience significantly contributes to my professional career. It does not only broaden my vision and challenge me to think deeply about the practical implications of my research for the public relations industry. More significantly, it helps me grow as an individual and motivates me to go the extra mile to develop leadership skills.
According to The Holmes Report, women make up about 70% of the PR workforce, but they only hold about 30% of the top positions in the industry. Why do you think there is a shortage of women leaders in PR? What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
I am writing this piece on International Women’s Day 2019, which makes my reflective thinking especially meaningful. As a woman, I have been thinking about the many courageous and determinant women in public relations before us, as well as those who are currently leading the changes! It is indeed because of them and their efforts that we will have the courage to explore more opportunities for not only our generation but more for the younger generations.
It is not surprising that in one of the most recent research projects sponsored by The Plank Center we found that female professionals are less satisfied with their job if compared to their male colleagues. Such satisfaction gap is particularly profound for women at a relatively junior level, such as team members or leaders of working units.
We also found there are several dimensions specifically contribute to the lower level of job satisfaction for female professionals, especially for those who are currently performing at a relatively junior level. For example, women feel their daily tasks are less interesting. They think their job does not have a high status nor provide a competitive salary. By the end of the working day, they do not feel they will have great career opportunities.
I think such perception does explain to a great extent why there is a shortage of women leaders in PR in reality. Women remain under-represented in leadership positions. They are missing in the boardroom. Women earn less than men. Caring responsibilities are another barrier to work-life balance. For the public relations industry (or any industry), this has brought the threat and the reality of lacking women leaders, along with task-specific challenges in various scenarios. It is such a necessity to address gender balance so we do not lose any future female leaders.
What can organizations (and the industry as a whole) do to prepare women for top leadership positions? What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in leadership?
Develop a leadership development program that encourages women to participate. However, true efforts need to go beyond offering a one-time leadership training session. The organizations should focus on building trusting relationships and creating opportunities for employees at all levels who have expressed strong interests in leadership. Align individuals and roles by creating challenges tasks. Help young female professionals identify opportunities for collaboration. Invite voluntary collaboration but make sure to recognize such efforts and talent as they will grow and become future leaders.
As a role model for women, what advice do you have for women interested in a career in public relations?
Be an advocate for yourself for leadership opportunities, no matter big or small because each one counts. Be creative and flexible. Persuade yourself first that you are willing to constantly adapt, learn, innovate, and grow. Knowing what you are good at but staying open to different ways of learning and growing. Focus on building your integrity and consistency as your own brand throughout your career. Adhere to strong moral and ethical principles. Cultivate your leadership skills through integrity.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
When I reflect on how I have managed to collaborate with diverse groups of great people on various projects, I learned different leadership lessons. If I have to pick one key lesson, I would say be an advocate for yourself for leadership opportunities.
What are the ways you inspire and encourage teamwork among your team?
The ways I inspire and encourage teamwork are a reflection of the leadership style I believe in:
- Fostering transparency in communication
- Identifying competence-focused collaboration
- Listening to different opinions
- Increasing self-managing as team members’ performance will set up their own accountability
Was there a pivotal moment in your career when you knew you were empowering those around you?
Such pivotal moments generally come from my students when they drop me a note or a message about those key milestones in their early career or when they feel they are empowered with increased authority and autonomy on the job or the impact they have passed on.
With the myriad of industry changes, what inspires you to stay motivated and encouraged?
Being an advocate for yourself also means you need to stay motivated and you have the desire to continue to learn. I guess this is not too hard for me because I am a teacher and a researcher. I believe that students will be up to the challenge if their teacher does so.
Posted: March 19, 2018
More from Dr. Juan Meng:
- Research: Report Card on PR Leaders
- Research: North American Communication Monitor
- Research: Millennials in the Workplace
- Research: Largest Global Study in Public Relations
- Research: Perspectives on Integrating the Newest Generation of Top Talent into PR & Communications
- Webinar: Millennials, Diversity and Inclusion in the PR Industry
- Webinar: Championing Diversity and Inclusion to Recruit and Retain Top Talent
- Infographic: 10 Crucial Elements to Effectively Manage Millennial PR Pros
- Infographic: 10 Numbers from the Global Leadership Study