EACD: European Communication Professionals Face Ethical Challenges as Well as Tech and Data Competency Gaps; Gender Inequalities Persist in a Female Dominated Field

BRUSSELS, May 29, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Results of the world’s largest study into strategic communication and public relations have been launched today. The European Communication Monitor 2020 surveyed more than 2,300 professionals in 44 countries, producing the following highlights:

  • Digital communication channels bring along new ethical challenges, but the majority of communication professionals are lacking up-to-date resources to tackle them
  • Three out of four communication departments employ more women than men, but still only one out of two top leaders in the field are women – the main barriers identified are a lack of flexibility and intransparent promotion policies within organisations
  • Communication practitioners fear the hacking of websites and social media accounts – they are often involved in handling cyber security issues, but seldom help to build resilience
  • Large competence gaps are identified in the fields of technology and data, although communication professionals have completed an average of 19 training days in 2019
  • There are significant differences between countries and various types of organisations

The full report is available for free at www.communicationmonitor.eu.

The results of the European Communication Monitor 2020 have been presented today in a virtual launch event organised by the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD). This year’s edition of the world’s largest survey of the communications profession is based on more than 2,300 respondents from 44 European countries, providing valuable insights for public relations, corporate communications and public affairs.

The study includes insights on moral challenges and ethical resources, cyber security and communications, gender equality in the profession, as well as status quo and future needs of competency development. Salaries, key strategic issues and communication channels as well as the characteristics of excellent communication departments have all been researched. A strict selection of participants, a unique research framework based on established theories, and statistical analyses fulfilling academic standards are key features of the study. It has been conducted and supported by a team of renowned communication professors from universities across Europe.

Professor Ansgar Zerfass, lead researcher of the survey and Chair Professor at Leipzig University, explained: “Communication leaders need to think about the time after the current downturn. Which competencies are needed in the future? What type of contribution can communications make in the field of cyber security? And how can we create a better future for the profession that enables practitioners to deal with the ethical challenges of digital technologies and how to make it easier for women to reach the top positions in communications? The European Communication Monitor explores these issues and provides insights that can stimulate internal debates in communication teams about their future set-up.”

Kim Larsen, Head of Group Communications, Brand & Marketing at Danske Bank and Acting President of the European Association of Communication Directors, added: “In times of radical disruption and uncertainty, it becomes evident for everyone, that as communicators we have an important role to help bring out the facts, facilitate dialogue and create shared meaning that will enable individuals, communities and organisations  to respond to the crisis and move forward in a balanced and sustainable way. We are very proud to present this report, a joint project with EUPRERA for more than a decade. It sheds light on some of the key issues and opportunities we are facing as communicators.”



Ethical challenges and resources to tackle them

Today’s globalised and complex world is interconnected in many ways. This makes it difficult to assess the consequences of individual actions. Many activities might be legally acceptable, but challenging from a moral point of view. Strategic communicators influence public opinion building and the construction of reality in mediatised societies to a huge extent. This poses severe ethical challenges to communication professionals, which are explored in the study.

Almost every second communication practitioner (47%) has experienced several ethical challenges in their day to day work during the last 12 months. A smaller portion reports about one issue of this kind (18%). The frequency of moral hazards has grown within the last years. When dealing with these issues, a clear majority (86%) relied on personal values and beliefs – codes of ethics (58%) or organisational guidelines (77%) are less important. Digital communication practices like the usage of social bots and big data analyses pose new ethical challenges – perhaps because only a minority of practitioners has participated in ethics training of any kind within the past three years.



Assessing and advancing gender equality in the profession

Since the United Nations addressed gender equality as the fifth of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), business in general and the communications industry in particular have promoted discussion on the issue. Annually the European Communication Monitor monitors female practitioners and gender issues in the profession. This year it evaluates how gender equality achievements are perceived. The study also explores the awareness of the glass ceiling and its causes and responsibilities at the individual, organisational and profession level.

Results show that gender issues remain a particular concern in an industry where three out of four departments and agencies in Europe employ more women than men, but still only one out of two leaders are women. Over half of practitioners observe an improvement in gender equality in their country, but disagreement arises when it comes to evaluating how much has actually been done to support female practitioners. The majority identify barriers for women at the organisational level: lack of flexibility to take care of family obligations (62%) and intransparent promotion policies (58%).



Cyber security and communications

We are all becoming more and more reliant on the Internet and digital communication which is making individuals and organisations vulnerable to cyber (in)security. These new realities are also recognised by professional communicators in Europe.

Two thirds of the surveyed professionals (63%) have given attention to the public debate about cyber security, and 59% of them see cyber security as relevant for their daily work in their communication departments or agencies. The major concerns are that cyber criminals could hack websites and/or social media accounts (42%) or close down digital infrastructures (29%). Governmental and public sector entities are more threatened than other types of organisations. More than half (54%) of communication practitioners in Europe have already experienced cyber attacks on their own organisations. Communication professionals are often involved in handling cyber security issues; but only a minority is helping to build resilience.



Competency development: Status quo and future needs

Skills, knowledge and personal attributes lead to broader competencies which have been identified as drivers of success for communication departments. For communication professionals, competencies are the foundational abilities that are both specific to communication such as data handling and those that are relevant to organisational success more generally, such as management skills.

Almost half of the respondents (43%) agree that competencies are intensively discussed in their country, highlighting their importance to communicators across the continent. Most practitioners (81%) believe in the need for constant improvement. The awareness for competency development is strongest in Western and Northern Europe. 69% of practitioners believe that technological competence is important, but only 51% report a highly developed competence in this area. Despite data handling being an important skill for all communicators, a lack of data competencies is particularly striking across all levels, with 51% of communicators underskilled in this key area. Communication professionals have completed an average of 19 training days a year in 2019, with 10 of those taking place in their free time (weekends, holidays or evenings). Most practitioners (84%) report that individuals should invest in their own development, but many (83%) plead for development programmes at the organisational level.

About the European Communication Monitor 2020

The European Communication Monitor 2020 is annually organised by the European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA) and the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD), supported by premium partner Cision Insights, digital communications partner Fink & Fuchs, and media partner Communication Director magazine. The communication monitor series is known as the most comprehensive research in the field worldwide covering more than 80 countries – the European survey is complemented by bi-annual surveys in other regions like Asia-Pacific, Latin and North America.

About the survey organisers

European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA)

The mission of EUPRERA is to enhance and promote innovation in the knowledge, research, education and practice of strategic communication. Through its membership of universities and other research associations and bodies, EUPRERA has developed a range of high profile transnational research projects and a worldwide network. More than 200,000 scholars and practitioners can potentially be reached through its extended communication channels and partnership arrangements.

European Association of Communication Directors (EACD)

The EACD aims to attract, inspire and engage current and future communication leaders to drive excellence in the profession. It offers a platform to connect, deepen their expertise, share best practice, establish and promote relevant standards. The EACD is a networked community that convenes its members in national chapters and working groups. It engages its members – and others – through a rich online programme and regional debates across Europe. www.eacd-online.eu 

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