Leeds Business School

Bloke-ification in a Feminising Industry

Do women have to start communicating and acting like men to have a successful career in a fast growing sector of the UK economy? In this post Dr Martina Topić  explores ‘bloke-ification’ and its implications in terms of equality, culture and leadership in the public relations and communications sector.

Three people in discussion

The analysis of the position of women in public relations in England has revealed that England is on par with global research as women reported similar career obstacles as elsewhere in the world. However, the data also reveals ‘catch 22’ as women in public relations seem to face dual requirements and tougher expectations than men.

In the research, I am particularly looking into cultural masculinities and the so-called bloke-ification, or whether women who embrace masculine communication and behaviour succeed faster and do better in the industry than women who show, what is usually perceived as feminine characteristics. I am using Bourdieuvian approach to the analysis and thus asking whether the public relations industry is, despite feminisation, a masculine habitus.

I have interviewed 26 women in both managerial and employee positions. As the results have shown, women face exclusions and discrimination and they also work in a masculine culture despite the rise of women in public relations in England, in line with global trends on the feminisation of the field. The findings on the position of women in public relations in England have revealed that discrimination exists at all levels and that they face a variety of issues, such as long working hours, sense of constant working, no free time, no flexibility for working mothers, double expectations, fewer career opportunities, the Queen Bee syndrome, having to change their appearance and adjust personality to succeed, sexism, not being taken seriously or being treated differently for being a woman, having to prove themselves against men and they also face a masculine culture or having to be blokish to succeed.

However, the major issue emerges in the field of office culture. In that, women reported some positive changes such as the diminishing of the requirement to dress in a feminine way and no exclusion from the business decision because of gender, but they reported that public relations organisations are gendered in so far as they seem to include networking as a job requirement (which has historically benefited men as opposed to women, due to a social expectation that women will care for families). Besides, women reported that public relations as a field is seen as ‘fluffy’ and women who work in public relations are often called ‘Comms girls’, thus showing devaluation of a feminised field. Nevertheless, women who work in predominantly female offices tend to report fewer issues than women who work in offices with men, thus showing that organisations, where men form the majority of employees, are prone to enforcing masculine culture and stereotyping against women.

Research into leadership has revealed that leadership styles (for managers) and leadership preferences (for employees) are gendered and that early socialisation has an influence on work styles and work satisfaction. In that, women expressed rejection of blokish women because they demonstrated masculine communication and behavioural styles, and the data indicates that women face double standards. In other words, if women demonstrate traditional feminine characteristics such as empathy and relationship building they are seen as soft leaders and not suitable to be good managers. However, if they are too tough then they are perceived as masculine and blokish, and thus undesirable for a leader.

This summary of findings shows that women face obstacles due to masculine habitus where women are expected to behave like men to succeed in a man’s world, however, when they do embrace those characteristics then they face resentment from their female colleagues. Thus, the situation for women in public relations in England can be described s ‘catch 22’, as they face obstacles towards full recognition and professional achievements at all levels.

The literature review (1982-2019) can be found here. The research is currently being extended to Spain, France, Portugal, Croatia, Georgia, Brazil, USA and Canada.

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.

More from the blog

All blogs