Women journalists still hitting the glass ceiling

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A new survey has found that women are severely under-represented in newsrooms around the world.

Research by the International Women's Media Foundation has found that globally, nearly three quarters of top management jobs in news media are held by men, as are two thirds of reporting jobs. The report, which is being officially unveiled today at the International Women Media Leaders Conference taking place in Washington, DC, will be part of wider discussions by women in the media on how to 'level the playing field' globally.

It's the first research of its kind to be conducted since 1995 and sadly, is unable to report any significant improvement in women's representation over the last 16 years.

Although the reasearch showed great variance across individual countries and continents with women making advances towards equality in the boardroom and in pay in some nations, things don't look too good elsewhere.

For example, while the 85 newsrooms surveyed in Eastern Europe 'show strong tendencies toward gender egalitarianism' with no wage gap, men in the media outnumber women 4:1 in Asia and Oceana. And while women in South Africa and Kenya have been able to advance beyond the 'glass ceiling' in recent years, it's been found that women in the UK 'face a glass ceiling that seems fixed at the junior professional level'.

It was also found that only two thirds of Western European newsrooms have a policy on gender equity and fewer than half have a sexual harassment policy.

This fascinating and comprehensive report comes just a couple of weeks after UK organisation Women in Journalism released research it had commissioned in time for International Women's Day, telling us that:

“...women are still underrepresented in Britain’s newspapers, less likely to make editorial positions and less likely to write about hard news, politics and current affairs than their male counterparts.”

WiJ's report - entitled 'A Gendered Press?' - surveyed national newspapers and found that overall, 74% of their journalists are men. Just 22% of reporters at the Independent are women, rising to a 'high' of 36% at the Daily Mail (a fact in itself so depressing I could write a separate column on it). Women are best represented at more senior levels at The Times, holding 40% of editors' roles.

What's interesting is that the research also found that subjects traditionally covered by women - such as the arts and lifestyle features - are increasingly being dominated by men too.

So why is this happening? People have been discussing the 'macho' image of journalism for years - some with the insinuation that women just aren't up to the aggressive, stressful, long-hours culture it perpetuates and some with the feeling that women in the newsroom are treated like lesser beings by their male counterparts.

There's also the marginalisation of women and issues involving them which is visible in every newspaper. The 'hard news' - the 'men's news', written mostly by men, takes up the majority of the paper while stories about women and by women are often kept in a special section and categorised as 'lifestyle' or 'women's pages'.

Roy Greenslade, writing in The Guardian about the research, said of his post-grad journalism students:

"...I have noted the that females generally outnumber male students. Yet the jobs, apparently, still go to the boys. Why is that?"

It's a good question. When I was studying on a post-grad journalism course a few years back, the male to female ratio was actually about equal. Plenty of my female course-mates found jobs pretty quickly. What stands out more is that fact that many of us from that intake don't actually work as journalists any more, having found it incredibly difficult to carve out a career among the incessant closures and redundancies affecting print media these days.

But for those who do make it, where does the problem lie? Undoubtedly, there's sexism present in newsrooms. My mother, a newspaper reporter for over thirty years, has a string of tales about being patronised, being asked to go and make the tea and being incessantly referred to as 'darling'. Having attempted to work in national media once upon a time, I know well that a woman's appearance is a hot topic for discussion whether she's celebrity red-top fodder or the reporter sitting on the other side of the room.

It's also a matter of old boys' clubs. People tend to want to employ and work with people who are like them. Which means we get men employing men employing more and more men - usually middle-class ones from the same universities, too.

And although - thanks to freelance work and the potential to work from home - the industry makes it possible for women to balance work and motherhood, a dismissive attitude to mothers still often remains. Unless of course they're writing about babies and children. For the 'women's section'.

Something needs to be done to ensure the visibility and empowerment of women in all areas of journalism, to ensure that we're not confined to writing about so-called 'soft' news while the big stories get passed to men. Wouldn't it be worrying to do the same research in another 16 years' time and find that nothing had changed?

This post originally appeared at BitchBuzz. Photo from Shavar Ross's Flickr


Emma Jayne said...

words cannot describe how much I love your blog! so refreshing! :)

Emma x

Emma Jayne said...

ps, this also slightly worries me as a student journo :( x


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