PARIS—Despite some recent progress, only five of the world’s top 20 public relations firms are led by women, APCO chief executive Margery Kraus—one of those five—told the International Communications Consultancy Organisation Summit in Paris this morning. “Our industry has so many women in it, but so few in leadership positions.”

Almost three-quarters (73 percent) of PRSA members are women, Kraus says, and two-thirds o(63 percent) f communications majors are women, a suggestion that things might be improvement. But four out of five leadership positions are held by men. Even more troubling, the average earning of women in 2006 was 69 percent of men’s average; in 2010, it was just 60 percent—suggesting that things might be getting worse.

“We’re not good at advancing women or women are just not as good at negotiating,” says Kraus, who believes that both sides need to learn how to talk to each other. “I can’ help wondering whether some of the start-ups led by women came about because of the perceived lack of opportunities at big agencies.”

Looking at the historically subordinate role of women in many businesses, Kraus cited the famous quote about dancer Ginger Rogers, who “had to do everything [Fred Astaire} did, but she had to do it backwards and in high heels.” And, says Kraus, she—like women in business, “had to make it look easy.”

She also cited the differences between genders discussed in books like “Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars.” Says Kraus, “If you offer a man and woman the same job, the man will say ‘great, let’s go for it’ and the woman will say, ‘I never did that before.’ You have to check yourself, listen to what people are saying and think about what they really need.”

Kraus says that in her early career she was reluctant to take credit for all the work she did “because I worked for men who were very ambitious.”

More recently, she attended a meeting at her own company at which the men walked into the room and took seats around the table. The women took up positions around the sides of the room.

For women, she offered simple advice: “Don’t feel inferior.”

For men: “Try to understand the message you are getting beyond the words you are getting. And if you walk into a room and everyone in there looks just like you, do something about it. If you don’t, nothing will change. We live in an era in which the skills women bring to the workforce, along with the skills men already possess, can really add value.

“If you don’t do it out of passion, do it out of good business sense.”