by Dr Martina Topić
Leeds Beckett University
Leader of the EUPRERA network “Women in PR”

As part of the EUPRERA project, now network, I led international research into the position of women in PR in Europe. Results have shown that women still struggle with career progressions, informal and structural barriers such as office culture, including social interactions and banter, and they struggle to ascend to leadership positions. When they do progress to leadership positions, they often face a catch 22 as if they are seen as feminine, they are tokenised and not taken seriously. If they are seen as tough, and embrace masculinity in behaviour and communication, then they are called ‘bitches’ (Topić, 2020; 2021). Equally, in another project where I am the research lead (WECAN, Women Empowered through Coaching and Networking), I led a study on networking only to find that boys clubs are as powerful now as they were in the 1980s when first studies were conducted (Topić et al, 2021). This is on par with EUPRERA literature research that has shown that women in PR still face the same issue now as they did in the 1980s (Topić et al, 2019; 2020). What all research I designed and led on has shown me is that it is always masculinity that takes one ahead, not biological sex but socially constructed gender. Thus, regardless of our sex, if we embrace masculinity in communication and behaviour, we go ahead. At the same time, anything feminine gets denigrated and othered. As a result, people of all genders suffer. It is not every girl’s dream to be someone’s princess nor is it every boy’s dream to be macho but somehow the latter is what is needed in patriarchy for one to succeed and get heard and listened to. The end result is constant domination, conflict, inequality, hatred and a never-ending cycle of violence.

So, what have we learnt? At the academic level a lot, at the human level clearly nothing as the same issues keep returning on the agenda. Therefore, a new women’s activism is needed, the one where women stand in solidarity and support each other in re-building organisations and industries so they will work for everyone and one where the world is re-build on values of peace, cooperation and democracy. An inspirational example is Wangari Maathai, the first Black woman to receive a Nobel peace prize who obtained this recognition due to her ecological activism which at the centre had women showing solidarity with humans and nature. Together, they planted trees, built communities, nurseries, helped each other and all in harmony with nature and species. The fight for Earth goes hand in hand with fighting for democracy and equal rights, and women have historically stood at the centre of this battle as ecofeminist theory and history has taught us for decades (Topić, 2021). What Maathai did differently is that she started community activism, peaceful campaigning and advocacy and through peaceful communication, she achieved a lot not just for her native Kenya but also the world. The trees she planted were not just planted to provide oxygen but as a symbol of peace. They were strategically planted in a front of prisons, in conflicts and served as a message of peace and a call for democracy. She described her work in a poignant speech – available here – to the Nobel Prize committee.

With a new European war raging between Russia and Ukraine, peaceful activism is needed more than ever. Wangari Maathai can teach us how to communicate peacefully but even more, how to persevere and communicate, at the same time as calling for democracy and respect of everyone’s right to choose not to be dominated. We can’t go and plant trees in Ukraine to support people whose lives are being destroyed, or lost, nor can we go and peacefully plant trees in Russia to protest the war. But we can peacefully protest and demand our politicians do what is needed to end this war and once the war ends, we can rebuild democracy, the right to choose and continue to communicate peacefully to defend the world from war, destruction and the loss of human life and natural habitat. Ukrainian women will certainly stand at the forefront of rebuilding their country when the time comes, and we need to support them now and then.

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!

Be the hummingbird!

Topić, M., Carbery, C., Arrigoni, A., Clayton, T., Kyriakidou, N., Gatewood, C., Shafique, S., & Halliday, S. (2021). Women and Networking: A Systematic Literature Review (1985-2021). #WECAN report. Leeds: Leeds Beckett University.

Topić, M. (2021). Corporate Social Responsibility and the Environmental Affairs in the British Press: An Ecofeminist Critique of Neoliberalism. London: Routledge.

M.Topić (2021). Fluffy PR and ‘Comms Girls’: Banter, Social Interactions and the Office Culture in Public Relations in England. International Journal of Organizational Analysis, 29(5), 1321-1336.

Topić, M. J. Cunha, A. Reigstad, A. Jelen Sanchez, Á. Moreno (2020). Women in Public Relations (1982-2019). Journal of Communication Management, 24(4), 391-407.

Topić, M. (2020). Women in Public Relations in England. EUPRERA Report Vol. 2, No.1. Leeds/Brussels: Creative Media and Communications Research Ltd & EUPRERA.

Topić, M.; Cunha, M.J. Reigstad, A.; Jelen-Sanchez, A.; Diers Lawson, A.; Polić, M.; Moreno, A.; Zurbano Berenguer, B.; Damian-Gaillard, B.; Sanz, P.; Fuentes Lara, C.; Cesarec Salopek, N.; Saitta, E.; Cruz, C.; Simeunović Bajić, N.; Vandenberghe, H.; Bibilashvili, L.; Kaladze, N. (2019). Women in Public Relations – A Literature review (1982-2019). EUPRERA Report Vol 1., No. 1. Leeds/Brussels: Creative Media and Communications Research Ltd. & EUPRERA.