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‘You really struggle not to come across as bitchy if you are trying to be authoritative’ – blokishness, habitus, behaviour and career experiences of women in public relations

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

International Journal of Organization Theory & Behavior

ISSN: 1093-4537

Article publication date: 28 February 2023

Issue publication date: 23 May 2023




This study aims to analyse the position of women in public relations (PR), using Bourdieu's habitus. The study also draws from works on women in journalism on the ‘bloke-ification’ or a situation where women have to behave like men to succeed, thus becoming one of the boys due to masculine habitus in mass communications organisations.


Qualitative interviews were conducted with 26 women practitioners asking questions about their experiences of working in the PR industry. The triple coding was conducted holistically and cross-referencing against answers on early socialisation of interviewed women. Thematic analysis was used to analyse and present data.


The findings show acceptance of masculine habitus with women not always challenging the usual order of things and recognising only direct sexism but not every day (masculine) practices. Women who demonstrate feminine behavioural styles are more likely to have negative working experiences than women who demonstrate masculine behavioural styles. Findings show a link between early socialisation and organisational behaviour with women who were socialised with boys reporting more masculine behavioural traits as expected for career progression as opposed to women socialised with girls who report feminine characteristics. The findings also signal that women work in a masculine culture in which they are often ostracised, and the profession as a whole is ridiculed by male managers and senior officials despite women being the majority of the workforce in the PR industry, thus showing that women also work in what Bourdieu calls a (masculine) habitus.

Research limitations/implications

This study remains limited regarding its qualitative aspect of 26 interviewed women. Whilst this is a relatively large sample for a qualitative study, these findings show trends in data that can be explored in further research but cannot be generalised. In addition to that, phone interviewing presents a limitation of the study as face-to-face interviews could have enabled a better rapport and a more in-depth conversation as well as an observation of non-verbal communication, which could have led to additional sub-questions. Also, the findings are based on perceptions of interviewed women, which are personal and do not necessarily need to present the reality in the whole of the industry, however, the thematic analysis revealed common patterns which point towards the direction of a wider issue in the industry, which can be explored in further research.

Practical implications

Organisations should implement HR policies that regulate internal office behaviour so that no staff member or department feels unappreciated and has less influence over the organisational work. A greater focus on treating employees fairly is needed, and this change needs to include structural problems that are often hidden, such as remarks in offices and internal practice and the dynamic between different departments bearing attention to departments where senior roles are traditionally given to men (e.g. finance) and those where senior roles also have women managers (e.g. PR).


The paper contributes to studies of cultural masculinities in organisations from a sociological perspective and uses a case study of the PR industry. The paper further extends the bloke-ification framework and contributes towards the conceptualisation of this framework from the PR perspective and using a sociological approach. In addition to that, the paper drew from works conducted in journalism and advertising and showed that issues women face are very similar across industries, thus opening a question of a wider social problem, at least when mass communications industries are in stake.



This paper is based on the EUPRERA Report Vol. 2, No. 1, Women in Public Relations in England, of which Martina Topic is the sole author and the EUPRERA research network lead. The paper presents a much improved and further analysed version of section one of the report (lived experiences). The full report can be found at this link:


Topić, M. (2023), "‘You really struggle not to come across as bitchy if you are trying to be authoritative’ – blokishness, habitus, behaviour and career experiences of women in public relations", International Journal of Organization Theory & Behavior, Vol. 26 No. 1/2, pp. 21-40.



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