TUESDAY (March 8) sees the marking of International Women’s Day, where countries all over the world unite in the celebration of women’s achievements.
This year’s theme is “Breaking the Bias” – where we are being asked to imagine a gender equal world, free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
We know that across all business sectors women leadership is under-represented – and that is certainly true in the media industry. And with that comes a bias in so many areas of our work.
Gender imbalance leads to content imbalance – lack of diversity and lack of inclusion. And to complete the circle, with this lack of balance, diversity and inclusion, there is a lack of female role models in the media, which perpetuates the problem.
Over the past decade, we have seen an improvement in women leadership at the top of content functions, with far more female editors than previously.
Here at Archant, I am pleased to see how the number of female editors has increased – yet I am the first to admit we have more to do.
One of the keys to that is ensuring there is a development plan in place for up-and-coming talent. Over the past 12 months we have promoted more women to managerial positions than ever before, creating new roles and seeing the talent come through.
If you look at female leadership at other major publishers, it is a similar story.
However, the facts speak for themselves. According to research conducted by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in 2021, across 240 brands in four continents:
- Only 22% of the 180 top editors across the 240 brands covered are women, despite the fact that, on average, 40% of journalists in the 12 markets are women. Looking only at the 10 markets we covered in 2020 and again in 2021, 23% of top editors are women, the same percentage as last year.
- In the UK while there was around a 50-50% split in the number of females working in journalism, just under 30% of women were occupying editor positions in 2020.
But merely having women in charge does not guarantee a shift in the type of content we produce and the right amount of inclusion. A flick through the pages of most titles’ print editions will reveal a gender imbalance towards white, middle-aged men occupying the columnist spots.
The leader of a news organisation cannot single-handedly change the tone of news coverage.
As Suzanne Franks says in her book, Women and Journalism, there are still enduring stereotypes in the media industry. There is still a bias towards women in features and lifestyle sections, rather than in crime or sport. Women are far less likely to be seen on the front page or homepages of news brands.
She quotes in her book that this leads to a tendency of belief that “Men’s news is to write on the front page that a fire happened, women’s news is to write inside why the guy lit a fire. “ (Johnson 2003).
And this imbalance in leadership roles in our newsrooms means there is a missing perspective of women in news.
What should we be doing to pick up the challenge from IWD this year?
To quote Alison Phillips, chair of Women In Journalism, and Editor of The Mirror: “The media is the prism through which the world sees itself. For it to be fair and accurate, we need all kinds of people from a host of diverse backgrounds telling all sorts of stories. That makes great journalism.”
We need to make sure more women’s voices are heard through the content creation process.
Even if we don’t have women editors, why can’t we ask them to lead news conferences, so that (1) they gain experience in the decision-making process and (2) they can influence the type of content that is created and, more importantly, how it is sourced.
We should conduct a regular audit of our titles and websites for male/female imbalance – through the number of faces, people quoted, and opinion pieces being published and work harder to ensure it is more representative of the population split.
Sport remains the bastion of the male journalist with an embarrassing paucity of female sports writers. What can we learn from the likes of Sky and the BBC who have managed to break this vice-like grip of male sports reporting?
The National Council for the Training of Journalists has been trying to tackle this issue for several years now.
Back in 2019/2020 it secured a partnership with NIKE to provide a free women’s sports journalism course, which delivered the Certificate in Foundation Journalism qualification to twenty students.
It is also in talks with Sky Sports News to find ways to encourage more women to participate, too.
Joanne Butcher, NCTJ chief executive, said: “It is still very much a topical issue for us and something we are really focused on.”
We also need to work much harder in ensuring we don’t fall guilty of unconscious biases. We should screen our job advertising for male-preference vocabulary. Interview panels should ensure there is even gender balance, we can and should monitor the attrition rate through the recruitment process of women from job application to appointment.
I am not an advocate of positive discrimination. I believe people should succeed to roles based on their capability. But unless we monitor things like these, the prospect of change will be glacial.
And that does nothing for our ability to challenge the bias – conscious or otherwise – in our profession – which fits the theme of International Women’s Day 2022.
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