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Sha, B.-L., & Toth, E. L. (2005). Future professionals’ perceptions of work, life, and gender issues in public relations. Public Relations Review, 31, 93–99.

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An Overview of the Study

The authors of the article admit that there exists a considerable body of research in the field of public relations, which is associated with diverse perceptions of gender and occupation among men and women. Specifically, the prior studies revealed gender-based discrepancies in perceiving job-related phenomena, such as hiring, salaries, or career development by male and female individuals. In such a way, literature stated that men and women had different perceptions of the issues occurring in the workplace, including the questions of job opportunities, sexual harassment, and work-and-life balance. Although Sha and Toth (2005) point to the abundance of research on the given topic, they notice that there is a need to investigate public relations students’ perceptions of their future careers since only one study was previously engaged in considering the given question.

The theorists suggest that this gap in knowledge must be addressed given the significant numbers of graduates who encounter the problem of gender perceptions once starting their activity in the workplace. Moreover, these students usually enter the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) or the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), which are characterized by the prevalence of females (70%) in the workforce. Therefore, according to Sha and Toth (2005), it is vital to explore gender-related views while the students are still at the university, as their influence is likely to prevail further in the graduates’ careers. Taken these considerations, the researchers aimed to investigate public relations students’ perceptions of their future careers, particularly in relation to the gender construct. At the same time, one has to admit that the authors did not define the purpose of their study distinctly.

On a similar note, Sha and Toth (2005) did not state clearly any hypotheses or research questions. Concerning methodology, the article referred to the author for details, so it did not supply a thorough description of the methods used. Still, the authors mentioned that they used the data taken from an online census of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) members. As is the usual case with online methods, the response rate was quite low, namely 9.05%, which means that, out of the requested 6,284 individuals, only 566 students responded with an agreement. Next, Sha and Toth (2005) collected data through the introduction of a questionnaire, and the participants gave responses according to the seven-item measuring scale.

To analyze and interpret the data, the researchers applied statistical, descriptive (mean, median, standard deviations), and inferential analyses (chi-square, df, ANOVAs). The results of the study did not provide sufficient basis for clear answers and judgments about the students’ perceptions of gender in the field of public relations. The authors admit the fact that most students are still uncertain about half of the issues touched in the questionnaire. As a matter of fact, Sha and Toth (2005) raise more questions than provide answers, which is though also a special contribution to the field. Importantly, the theorists presented a valuable conceptualization of the factors affecting the students’ perceptions of gender-related issues in public relations. In particular, they distinguished and thoroughly explained the constructs of (1) gender at the workplace; (2) salaries; (3) work flexibility; and (4) children at home (Sha & Toth, 2005, p. 96). Further, the analyses of inferential statistics allowed the authors to make meaningful conclusions related to male and female differences in perceiving the discussed issues.

The practical implications of the study results are associated, in the first turn, with the importance of introducing balanced, positive attitudes to gender in the working context. It is crucial that the field of public relations is also characterized by gender equity and equal opportunities for pursuing career development for both genders. What is more, the authors suggested a valuable conclusion that meeting gender-related challenges should start while future professionals are still in the educational setting.

Critique of the Study

Since the response rate was rather low, questions arise concerning generalizability and, consequently, the reliability of the study results. However, the authors address this issue and respond that the number of participants (500 students) was sufficient to ensure significant evidence-based conclusions. Besides, the demographic characteristics, the sample can be considered representative of the entire population of the public relations students cohort. In particular, one can make such an assumption in relation to the gender composition of the sample, with the women prevalence of 86.9% against 13.1% for men. As has been mentioned in the first paragraph of the current essay, the workforce in the area of public relations profession contains 70%, female colleagues. One can conclude that Sha and Toth (2005) aimed to increase the external validity of their research.

Overall, the results obtained in the given study can potentially provide data for meaningful conclusions concerning this particular cohort of the population. Additionally, the authors tried to select the sample in such a way that representatives of various races were present in quantities corresponding with the population on the whole, which also added to external validity. At the same time, nothing can be said concerning internal validity in this particular study, as the theorists did not try to control any variables, and on the whole, their survey was conducted in naturalistic conditions.

In addition, reliability was ensured in the study by utilizing a standardized procedure; all participants responded to the same questions according to a scale of seven items, from 1 being “strongly disagree” to 7 being “strongly agree” (Sha & Toth, 2005, p. 95). Such transparent and consistent assessment was able to guarantee objectivity and allow for consistent, meaningful conclusions. In addition, Sha and Toth (2005) applied statistical analyses, both descriptive and inferential ones, in order to gain credibility for their research. In essence, the questionnaire itself can be considered a valid instrument for distinguishing the beliefs and perceptions of the students since it included items that were directly aimed at revealing the gender and work-related interpretations. It should be admitted, though, that the authors did not discuss any previous attempts by researchers to use this method for similar goals. Nor did they warrant its quality, validity, or reliability or describe the nature of questions asked the length of the tool or any other details. Therefore, it is difficult to make decisions concerning the appropriateness and efficiency of the instruments applied.

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Importantly, it should be noted that the authors did not state directly the purpose of their study, although they should have done it transparently at the beginning of the article. Only judging from the description of other rubrics, it was possible to guess what the actual goal of their endeavor was. Concerning the study results and their discussion, it is logical to assume that certain interpretations made by the theorists are not guaranteed to be built on sound judgment and reasoning. For illustration, from the answers received in the process of investigation, the authors conclude that the representatives of Generation Y are more interested in work-and-life balance than previous generations. However, it is unclear what data they used for such comparisons; from the descriptions of the article, it is difficult to understand, which generation the researchers studied. They did not state this fact directly, and no other data about the previous generations were available.

In spite of available reasons serving as a basis for critique, the current research can present valuable conclusions for the development of the field of public relations. In essence, the authors touched on a vital topic of gender equality in the workplace, which is at the center of attention in modern research.

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