Media Reality Check: Six Women Leaders on Why We Need More Women Media Makers and Women’s Stories

February 19th is the anniversary of TTL’s launch event, so I want to revisit last year’s panel on women in the media with six trailblazing women: Julie Burton, Karen Finney, Erica Gonzalez, Aminatou Sow, Pat Mitchell, and Kristin Gilger.

With WMC’s “2014 State of Women in the Media” report in hand, this group had a far-ranging conversation on why having more women in media is so important, the significance of women’s perspectives, the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of women and women of color, women as users and shapers of technology, and the role for male leaders in bringing media organizations to leadership parity. They also gave us a reality check on the numbers. Read on for highlights.

Erica Gonzalez (formerly of El Diario-La Prensaon women in journalism and the need for women to step up (and be called on) as sources:


“I started talking to women on the ground, women leading nonprofits… women doing all kinds of amazing work and understood the nuances of issues. I’d say you have to write… I’d get a lot of hemming and hawing, people saying, ‘I’m not a writer.’ Talk to people, just put those words on paper… Your voice needs to be on our pages.”

“One of the issues is how women frame themselves as not being experts. So, be atrevida, be daring… Don’t pause to contact the newsroom and let them know that you’re a credible resource.”

“We are not present as empowered, and I emphasize empowered, as managing editors, editors-in-chief, content directors. These are the decision-makers. This is a reflection of the values and commitment of news organizations or the lack thereof.”

“If you’re invested in audience growth… then you have to have the right people [engaging] with your audience and understand its nuances.”

Gonzalez shared a ton of disappointing/motivating stats: During January and February of 2013, men were quoted 3.4 times more than women in front-page stories in The New York Times. That’s 19%. As of 2014, editorial writers and columnists were still mostly white and male, with the average age of columnists being 60. Referencing a 2012 American Society of News Editors study, women comprised 36% of newsroom staffs…a number that hasn’t budged since 1999. The numbers for women of color were worse.

Pat Mitchell (Paley Center for Media, former president of PBS) on being one of the early women leaders in media and the challenge for the television industry (and consumers) now:


“We [were told] never, ever, ever do a woman’s story because if you do, you’ll get typecast to [what was then] the ‘women’s pages.’ So here we were in TV with all this influence and we weren’t using it to tell women’s stories or to make a difference in the representation of women… That has begun to change.”

“Numbers don’t tell the full story. The full story of the under-representation and misrepresentation of women will change when we as media consumers demand that they change.”

The stats? Mitchell noted the good news in the WMC report: women now make up 40% of staffs in TV. But not nearly enough women—you guessed it—are in top leadership, decision-making roles.

Aminatou Sow (Tech LadymafiaCall Your Girlfriend) on women in technology and the challenge for the tech industry:


“Women are the leading consumers of internet technology… outpacing men’s use of both the internet and social media. This is [exciting], but there are a lot of issues of misrepresentation… Take Pinterest. It’s a juggernaut in technology and leads more traffic referrals than Youtube, LinkedIn, and Google+ combined, but for a long time the media didn’t pay attention to them because they were seen as a women’s platform. Well, [they] are making money and women are leading the way there and on many other platforms.”

“One place the report was stark [relates to] who is building and making technology… Less than 3% of [angel investors] are women… Who are the people putting in the money to make sure that platforms are being built and who has access? …At Tech Ladymafia we always joke that this is an engineer’s job to fix. If your job is problem-fixing, [get] on top of why the user base is so heavily female and the developer base is not.”

“If you are consuming these technology products, you should be able to see yourself on the other side of them.”

Sow shared some pretty shocking stats as well. Less than 12% of of the people building video games are women. In terms of folks starting new businesses, 70-80% of founders are men. She went on to talk about the issue of modeling—the need for young women to be able to see themselves in media leadership and technology building roles. 

Kristin Gilger (Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, Arizona State University) on what will make the difference for women’s advancement in sports journalism:


“What [the report] revealed to me… is it’s not just going to be about [women’s] technical skills, journalistic skills, or their knowledge of sports—it’s going to be about their leadership skills.”

Some stats: Citing Associated Press editor reports, Gilger told us that as of 2014, just 15% of sports editor staffers were women. As you go up the ladder, a whopping 90% of sports editors are male and white.

Karen Finney (MSNBC) and Julie Burton (Women’s Media Center) on why the status of women in media is everybody’s issue:


“Our cultural biases haven’t caught up with the reality of women being into sports and gaming and ‘if you give a woman a shot, she’ll produce a really good film [or write] a great column that will influence our culture…’ We think about empowering girls and women; [we also need to] impact boys and men so the [idea of women in these roles] is just normal.” – Karen Finney


“Those people who have the power to decide which stories should be told, who will be hired, they are the ones who should look at their family tables and say, ‘Is everyone represented, are we all in?’” – Julie Burton 



So why do reports like these matter, and what’s next? 

Pat Mitchell summed it up beautifully: “It’s important to mark our progress and mark how far we still have to go… You can’t put any one group in a room [and] let them make the decisions for the rest of the world about how we’re going to look, feel, act, think, talk and what’s possible for us.” 

Resources: The Op-Ed ProjectSheSourceProgressive Women’s Voices trainingBinderCon. What else would you add to the list?

If you were there last year or if you’re just watching now, what stood out to you from the conversation? Tell us in the comments below. And please, join us in our #25not95 campaign!

Watch the full conversation below:

About the Author

Lex Schroeder is a writer and speaker on gender equity, systems change, and the future of work. She is a Leadership Ambassador with Take The Lead and is based in NYC. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lexschroeder.