This is a grassroots initiative by Dr Martina Topić with the aim to celebrate works by and about Comms women, both researchers and practitioners. Comms in this sense capture communication industries, including advertising, public relations, corporate communications, public service communication and media industries and communication scholarship by and about comms women.
Why is this relevant?
Academia – there are hundreds of studies on women in Comms and yet we do not speak of this area as a sub-discipline of communication scholarship nor are individuals of all genders doing this work always visible or appreciated. In some cases, women, for example, are actively discouraged from pursuing this form of scholarship. This needs to stop and this initiative aims to promote and celebrate all works done by women comms scholars as well as scholars of any gender who conduct research on women in comms. Essentially, this is a platform to do PR for you and promote and celebrate your outstanding research, increase citation and visibility as well as present research to the industry. To this end, the literature lists will be provided and regularly updated and anyone working in the field can send blogs summarising their research and initiatives including research projects. There will never be any charges or conditions for this promotion as this is a genuine grassroots initiative with the sole aim to promote and celebrate works by and about comms women as well as an initiative to celebrate women in all of their diversity of races, classes, personalities, etc and those individuals of any gender who do work on women in comms and/or support them.
Industry – Research from around the globe shows that comms industries are either feminised with the majority of the workforce being women or they are getting there with an increased number of women entering the field and yet, women report exclusions, discrimination, harassment, career barriers, and research studies also report that organisations work according to masculine patterns with only women who fit masculine meanings, or being blokish, being promotable. Women who get promoted to senior roles then either act as Queen Bees and do nothing to support others or they might not be bad but face criticism for being tougher than men, the latter not being illogical given that the only way to climb the ladder is to be one of the boys and very tough. As such women face a catch-22 and a no-win situation. If they are perceived as, what is socially constructed as feminine they are not promotion material and face exclusions. If they are masculine, they are called ‘bitches’ and denounced as inadequate leaders. Women of diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds face even worse discrimination and struggle to even come to the point of complaining about not being promotable. Working-class women are not seen as having appropriate communication and behavioural skills to do work in comms because recruitment policies are done and designed in a way that goes in favour of white and middle-class women. Black women are disproportionately accused of being rude or aggressive if they voice an opinion and face structural and systemic barriers that are far worse than the pay gap and glass ceiling and include also access to many careers, decent treatment in organisations, etc. Issues go on and on. Organisations function as a masculine habitus and whilst the concept of habitus is normally analysed on a micro-level, similarities in the treatment of women appear across the globe and we drown in hegemonic masculinity that does not work for anyone, men, women, non-binary individuals, trans men and women, working class and ethnic and racial minorities, planet, society and human relationships; you name it, and it does NOT work!
Practitioners are thus invited to write blogs about their initiatives and/or projects about women in comms and women in comms are generally invited to write and speak about their distinctive experiences and behavioural and communication styles, provide tips for others, promote their work whatever that is, etc. There will never be any charges for practitioners to contribute to the initiative either.
The focus of the initiative
We need to celebrate women in all their diversity, racial, ethnic, demographic, and distinctive behavioural and communication styles, but this is hardly the case. We do not all come from the same background, did not go through the same socialisation, and have different behavioural and communication styles. Some people have various disabilities, and not everyone stays in the same gender assigned to them at birth. None of this should be a reason for discrimination but it often is. Equally, we should not alienate allies or turn towards pitting ourselves against one another, which is why the literature list features authors of all genders and authors of all genders who do something about Comms women are welcome to contribute. However, a focus on women is still needed because all data shows women still face structural barriers and a lack of recognition plus a ridiculous notion of women somehow being all one unique group and individuals seeking a career progression and closing the pay gap whereas this is not the case and many women do not come even far enough to request career progression, particularly ethnic minorities. Structural barriers are the problem and always have been and whilst society has changed and a lot of progress has been done, a lot more is still needed.
Women have been asked to change to fit into the organisational world for far too long. Enough of that! Organisations and society need to change, and we need to realise that patriarchy is bad for everyone, women, men, non-binary individuals, trans-women, and trans-men, etc., and the patriarchal domination is bringing the planet to the brink of collapse. We, as humans, dominate the planet and then each other all in the name of alleged growth or whatever it is that is used to justify what is arguably socially constructed discrimination. We need to change organisations and society and celebrate each other, collaborate, network and always support diversity in all of its aspects.
Where is this coming from?
This initiative is fully funded and managed by Dr Martina Topić as a genuine grassroots initiative. The initiative comes as a result of projects she was leading, namely the EUPRERA project (now a research network) on Women in Public Relations, a British Academy-funded project on Women in Advertising and a Leeds Business School-funded project on women in journalism. All of these projects were focused on studying bloke-ification or a situation in which only women with masculine behavioural and communications pattern succeed in organisations, thus arguing that organisations function as masculine habitus where only those who meet masculine work expectations, ways of doing work as well as behaviour and communication styles succeed. All projects studied blokishness by looking at lived experiences, office culture and leadership.
BRITISH ACADEMY, WOMEN IN ADVERTISING PROJECT
This project focused on studying the advertising industry, which faced regulation from the UK Government in 2019 due to persistent gender stereotyping in adverts and imposing the gendered expected role messaging in this form of mass communication. The findings of this project showed that women still face exclusions, discrimination and also sexism and sexual harassment. Women reported exclusion from business decisions and being asked to do menial stuff beyond their expertise echoing the office culture of the 1930s when women first started to join offices and they still work in masculine office culture. Banter is still masculine and whilst some women are OK with this, many are uncomfortable and feel left out, opening a question of whether advertising offices are still places for blokes. Masculine office culture works for blokish women or tomboy women who also embrace this form of communication and behaviour, and this was confirmed by asking questions on early socialisation where women who played with boys demonstrated more masculine behavioural characteristics and masculine communication styles, as well as an ability to fit into organisational culture. Most issues were reported also by working mothers who expressed issues with managing work and leisure time. The majority of women said they prefer female managers except when female managers are perceived as blokish and masculine.
A summary report is available in open access here
Papers are available here:
EUPRERA, WOMEN IN PUBLIC RELATIONS PROJECT/NETWORK
EUPRERA Women in Public Relations started as a three-year research project and recently converted to a research network. Originally, studies were conducted on the experiences of women in public relations using the same questionnaire as in the advertising project above, thus looking at lived experiences, office culture and leadership. Studies were conducted in England, Spain, the Czech Republic, Greece, North America, Georgia (EU) and Croatia. All studies, as a rule, showed issues with discrimination in lived experiences, office culture, and leadership. Some national differences showed particularly in regard to women largely being in leadership positions in PR in some countries, but also facing sexism, gendered expectations and having their leadership challenged. The issue of masculine habitus emerged and women who embrace masculine behavioural and communication styles generally tend to fare better in their careers. Another issue, specific to PR, that emerged from data is the lack of recognition of PR as a profession, with women from England saying they are called ‘comms girls’ and PR is seen as fluffy and PR people as those who are expected to make things look pretty with no say in how organisations are managed.
Papers are available here:
Open access reports are available here:
LEEDS BUSINESS SCHOOL, WOMEN IN JOURNALISM PROJECT
This project studied women in journalism and even though it was done as the third project in the series of projects Martina led, all projects stem from existing literature on women in journalism where many authors argued there is an issue of bloke-ification with only blokish women going ahead due to a masculine culture of newsrooms. What is more, research argued that women become so bloke-ified by the time they succeeded that younger women no longer see them as role models, however, unlike advertising and PR where women who are blokish succeed in their career progression endeavours but face various challenges, women journalists merge into the masculine culture and become one of the boys, thus this organisational masculinity presenting an issue for women who cannot fit masculine meanings and work patterns at work and become one of the blokes.
Papers are available here:
What all these projects clearly showed is that blokish women go ahead and then often face a catch-22 by being unrecognised and their leadership dismissed due to being tough, which women have to be if they want to succeed in the industry. What blokish means in practice is showing no emotion, toughness, directness and domination in communication, leading as men do, doing work like men do (e.g., hard news vs soft news in journalism), a work-first attitude, inclines to self-promotion and assertiveness, competitiveness, etc. The majority of women do not possess these characteristics because of their upbringing and socially conditioned expected roles so, for example, women who grew up playing with girls often develop the so-called feminine styles of behaviour, communication and leadership which then later ends up in a situation they are not seen as manager material. Women who grew up playing with boys develop more masculine behavioural and communication characteristics and thus fare better in organisations, which still function as masculine habitus and operate under masculine meanings.
Therefore, an initiative such as this one is needed to celebrate all women and their achievements and promote their work.
I am Dr Martina Topić, a behavioural sociologist and communication scholar and I am conducting my research into behavioural and communication styles, recently mainly focusing on women in comms organisations (advertising, PR, journalism) but with future research being planned in other areas.
I am a former journalist and I have been founding and running various small companies over the years, including events management and sales so my experience is also in PR. I used to be a typical hack but then I became an advocate for public relations industries due to the very positive impact this industry makes on society, but this is also not recognised (does it surprise you it is one of the most feminised industries?). I am an advocate for public relations practice and believe the world would be a better place if we all tried to build relationships with one another. In 2007, I joined academia where I completed two doctorates (sociology and communications) and I have developed a strong research profile mainly studying women in comms. I am a working-class academic and have a life history of extreme poverty and deprivation including episodes of homelessness. I managed to graft my way out of it through education and persistence and I am a big advocate for education and its power to transform lives hence, this initiative is based on research I’ve done so far. I work with data (interviews and surveys on practitioners, media and policy analyses) and engage with evidence-based work only.
Whilst I managed to graft my way out of extreme deprivation, I recognise that this is because of my egalitarian upbringing by my mother who did not force me to do stuff girls are supposed to do, according to social norms so I’ve been allowed to play with the so-called boy’s toys, become a massive football fan, read what I want, watch and read sci-fi, etc. This resulted in me being a grafter and very much a go-getter so when I want something, I will keep pushing until I get it. I was one of those masculine women, and still am naturally a blunt and direct person, plus I can be assertive when I want to, but I realised with years that despite intrinsically being everyone’s ally, people and women particularly did not like me. I did not always understand why but my life changed once I read an article by Eleanor Mills, a former editor of the Sunday Times who wrote about women in journalism only succeeding if they are blokish, which then influenced my research agenda and I started to research this on comms industries by interviewing women. I confirmed what Eleanor said empirically, and I became an advocate for all women, respective of their styles, personalities and backgrounds, and I also realised how much women suffer because they had traditional socialisation and spent time with other girls and doing the so-called feminine stuff. As I am a sociologist, I then designed studies that explore socialisation experiences and career statuses and progressions and became not just an advocate for all women but started to actively support and mentor them. Previously, I simply did not pay attention and in my defence, I never said in my CV I am attentive to details. It can be indeed said that a degree in sociology transformed my life as I am now able to design research that helps me study human and organisational behaviour and communication and I am a big advocate for sociology and a proud member of the British Sociological Association. Through my sociological and communications research, I also recognise that many women are too shy to promote themselves and their work, which is often the reason they fall behind. I am an extrovert and have no issues with promoting myself but recognise not everyone can do it, so I designed this initiative for that reason too. Also, and perhaps most importantly, I am grateful to women who agreed to participate in my research, which benefited my academic career, but I did not want to just use women for my own interest, so I have been thinking for a while whether there is something I could do with all data, regardless of how small and insignificant to show appreciation and support. I think this initiative fits that well so as a crown of all these projects that I have now completed with publications either published or in the process of publishing, there comes this. I hope it will help, at least a little bit. I genuinely believe that each and every one of us can make a difference and if we support just one person, we already did a lot. Imagine if everyone did that, the world would be a better place.
I am not inspired by big posh CEOs and rich women who climbed the ladder and I detest Queen Bees who climb the ladder and then pull it up from other women. I am inspired by everyday women who work hard and try to support each other. Since I became aware I am part of the problem, I started to actively support women, particularly using my natural assertiveness, which comes from my upbringing, and not only I supported women’s career progression, created opportunities for them at work but in some cases, I forced some women to go and apply or ask for leadership positions, including refusing to let one woman out of the building until she went, asked and got the position I knew she would get if she only asked.
Most of all, I am forever inspired by the work of Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan activist and a Nobel prize winner who formed women’s collectives and engaged women in supporting each other and communities by forming kindergartens, planting trees and protecting parks in Kenya. Wangari famously invited all to be hummingbirds and speak up about any injustice. I wrote about this in the EUPRERA blog and said the following, “Wangari Maathai said she would always be the hummingbird and do the best she can to speak about problems she sees, and she did so peacefully so let’s all be hummingbirds. Let’s speak about inequality wherever and whenever we observe it, let’s speak up for all women who struggle, whether those in organisations or those suffering war and violence. Let’s speak up against war, destruction of lives and habitat and let’s do it peacefully. Together, we can prevail, and peace can prevail if we all embrace it. The world needs to finally unite and embrace the feminine. Be the hummingbird and speak up!”
You can find out more about my work at my personal website
If you want to contribute to blog, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note that this is a one-woman show of an initiative and I work full-time hence, it might take a bit to receive a reply/action depending on other deadlines/obligations.
In solidarity, forever!
This initiative is the sole property of Dr Martina Topić. Views expressed here are of Dr Martina Topić and the authors of the content when these authors are different. Views expressed on this website cannot be ascribed to any organisation Dr Martina Topić is formally or informally associated with nor to organisations of authors who participate in this initiative.
The decision on what to publish resides with Dr Martina Topić only, at her discretion, and there is no automatic right to get the work promoted and/or published. Offensive content or content based on whataboutery will not be accepted as the attention needs to be centred on the positive and celebration of Comms women and those who support them.
Authors of blogs and/or any other content accept responsibility for the accuracy of their work and/or writing.