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It’s something that you should go to HR about' – banter, social interactions and career barriers for women in the advertising industry in England

Martina Topić (Leeds Business School, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, UK)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 4 December 2020

Issue publication date: 2 April 2021




This paper uses a Difference Approach and Bourdieu's habitus theory to analyse the experiences of women working in the advertising industry with a particular focus on employee relations such as social interactions in advertising offices, banter and career barriers.


Thirty-eight qualitative interviews were conducted with women from the advertising industry in England, exploring both the employee and managerial perspectives on social interactions. Women were asked about their office culture, including networking expectations, dress code, banter, social interactions and potential career barriers such as exclusion from business decisions and having to work harder to succeed. Thematic analysis has been used to analyse data.


Thematic analysis revealed two themes, patriarchal culture in advertising offices and gendered social interactions and banter. Women believe they are excluded from business decisions and perceive career barriers in office culture grounded in masculine banter and masculine social interactions. Similar themes emerged regardless of women's length of experience or role within the organisation suggesting a problem with the masculine work culture in the advertising industry in England. Besides, women tend to prefer different social interactions to men, but find masculine interactions domineering advertising offices.

Practical implications

Employers should consider implementing new internal policies on communication and behaviour in offices to create a more inclusive and respectful culture. More consciousness-raising is needed to make women aware that inequality is more than just a pay gap and glass ceiling, but also the structure of the organisation and the office culture.

Social implications

The paper contributes towards a better understanding of the impact of social interactions in the office on the work culture with a case study from the advertising industry. The paper points towards differences in communication and social interactions between men and women and the fact the masculine form of social interactions and banter dominate advertising offices.


To the best of author's knowledge, this is the first paper tackling office culture in the advertising industry in England using the Difference Approach and Bourdieu's habitus theory.



Funding: This work was supported by the British Academy research grant under SRG18R1\181033.


Topić, M. (2021), "It’s something that you should go to HR about' – banter, social interactions and career barriers for women in the advertising industry in England", Employee Relations, Vol. 43 No. 3, pp. 757-773.



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