So, at this point, we all know (or hopefully should know) that there is a diversity problem in public relations senior leadership. Not only does this impact brands reaching target audiences, but it hinders the development of aspiring leaders and the future success of the industry. When there is no representation, it makes it harder to find resources and mentors to connect with. As an aspiring woman leader myself, I have found it odd that there is no clarity to what happens in a woman’s career path to leadership. Therefore I’ve made it a personal mission to share the stories and wisdom from women in leadership roles that inspire me. This is my way of being “Here For Her.”
Karen Mateo is not just the chief communications officer of the Public Relations Society of America, she is a leader who defines her success through impacting others. With heart and compassion, she advocates for the future of the industry in her work every day. Mateo is one of the few women that make up less than 20 percent of the C-suite in the public relations industry.
Officially, Mateo spearheads overall brand message development and positioning for the nation’s leading professional organization in the public relations industry while optimizing best-in-class communications infrastructure to drive integrated campaigns that advance the organization’s reputation and engagement among target stakeholders. Unofficially, she’s a role model paving the way for leaders to come.
She always surrounds herself with diverse opinions and perspectives, which she learned early on in her career through mentoring and professional development opportunities.
“I’ve learned a lot over the years by observing others in my field, following the lead of companies I admired and exposing myself to a variety of opinions and viewpoints,” Mateo said. “Attending conferences and speaking engagements always opens my eyes to something new, as does forging new relationships with peers in my industry.”
Mateo expresses that a new perspective embodies great leadership and encourages students to problem-solve with an extra lens.
“A good leader is able to ask the right questions and look at something from another point of view,” said Mateo.
This skill was actually what helped her go from publicity intern at CBS Sports into a full-time leadership position allowing her to get exposure to some of the biggest sporting events in the industry. It also prepared her for some of the toughest challenges in her career including working through the September 11 attacks. Through grit and grace, she turned each challenge into a moment of growth for her career journey, adding new skills and connections along the way.
Mateo continues to advocate for diversity not just for herself, but for the future of public relations.
“Women, and men, need to continue to advocate for more diversity in senior leadership roles,” Mateo said. “There has been good progress in recent years but there’s still a long way to go.”
Ashleigh Kathryn is the 2019–2020 PRSSA Immediate Past President. She is a graduate student at the University of Florida and a professional intern with The Walt Disney Company. Connect with her on LinkedIn.