Leeds Business School

Women in UK’s Advertising Industry: Female managers better bosses, but women not listened to

I recently completed an analysis of data on the UK’s advertising industry, which revealed some problematic findings.

Front cover of the the report - "Bloke-ification as a social issue? The case study of women in the UK advertising industry."

I interviewed 41 women and asked them about their work environment and experiences of working in the UK’s advertising industry.

Women reported exclusion from business decisions, being asked to do menial stuff well beyond their expertise and qualification levels, and they still work in a masculine office culture where men and women engage with different banter. While some women are in agreement with this type of banter, many also report being left feeling uncomfortable, thus leaving me with a question on whether advertising offices are still places for blokes?

The masculine banter and masculinised organizational culture, however, works for tomboy women who are accepting of this form of behaviour and communication. The questions on early socialisation experiences point towards the link between early socialisation where girls who socialise with boys embrace masculine characteristics and are more likely to get promoted and find their place in the organisation. As opposed to this, girls socialised with other girls, are reporting feeling uncomfortable with masculine organisational culture and report difficulties in obtaining recognition and advancement in careers.

The research findings are based on 41 interviews I conducted with women working in the UK’s advertising industry. Women from London, Leeds, Wakefield, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Rickmansworth and Reading were interviewed as well as three women from Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, one from each country. The findings are, thus, predominantly based on experiences of 38 women who work in England’s advertising industry.

In addition, a difference between north and south emerged after the 10th interview where women based in the north report less discrimination and generally seem to be more satisfied with their jobs and career opportunities than women based in the south, and London in particular. In other words, I was interviewing women randomly by contacting women who work in advertising across the country, and after I completed the 10th interview I noticed that women from the north tend to express more work satisfaction and feel that their career opportunities are equal to those available to men. On the other hand, many interviewees from London voiced concerns about their treatment and called sexism and discrimination in London’s advertising industry as ‘inherent’. However, working mothers from both the north and south report issues in recognition of their distinctive situation and parental responsibilities. The tone of concern and the extent of issues faced is lower in the north of England as opposed to the south, London in particular, however, this concern continually appeared in interviews with working mothers.

The majority of interviewed women said they prefer female managers, and the exception is those women who worked for female managers who they described as using masculine characteristics of leadership.

The research was conducted with a grant from the British Academy. The findings are now being prepared as academic publications, which will contain a detailed analysis of views women expressed in interviews, as well as direct quotes from interviewees illustrating their view on the situation in the UK’s advertising industry.

A full summary of findings with more details and rationale for the project is available from the Project report.

Dr Martina Topic

Reader / Leeds Business School

Dr Martina Topić is a behavioural sociologist and communications scholar studying wicked problems of social inequity historically and at present, she is a Reader at Leeds Business School.

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