Why More Women Leadership In Media Would Change The Stories of The World
In the 1980s I worked for a newspaper in Texas as a feature writer and columnist where staff parties of arrivals, departures and birthdays were held at the bar across the street. Often they included serving a cake decorated with a naked woman, complete with pink and black icing. I was in my 20s and not well-versed in the newsroom culture, but as soon as I saw the anatomically correct lady cake, I took three cocktail napkins and covered her sugar-coated image.
“You ruined it, “ the editor-in-chief chastised me.
It is no surprise to women journalists or women working in media-related fields that leadership in media companies is lacking women at the top ranks. Consider the debacle for many women who have worked at Fox News. And that reality shapes workplace culture, coverage of women’s issues, gender bias in commentary and placement of stories. In short, it shapes how we as consumers of media view the world.
Following the recent departure of Arianna Huffington from her namesake media empire, observers are checking in on the lack of women leaders in the media.
“The Huffington Post already had a male CEO in place, just like Time Inc., The New York Times Co., Condé Nast, Hearst Corp. and its Hearst Magazines unit, Meredith, Bloomberg Media, The Financial Times, Guardian Media Group, Gannett, Tronc, Dow Jones, Forbes Media, Politico, BuzzFeed, Vox Media, Vice Media, Mashable, NPR, Fusion, Mic and Business Insider,” Jeremy Barr writes in Advertising Age.
“Some executives worry that the imbalance is bad not just for women’s chances for advancement but for their products and their businesses as a whole,” Barr writes.
“The relative lack of female CEOs today stands out all the more because it wasn’t so long ago that historical norms seemed to have been broken: Time Inc., The New York Times Co., former Financial Times parent Pearson, NPR, the Fairchild Publications division of Condé Nast and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia all had female CEOs in the first decade of the 2000s, and Hearst Magazines was run by Cathie Black as president from 1995 through 2010,” he writes.
“’The more women CEOs there are, the more women CEOs there will be”’ Vivian Schiller, who served as NPR’s first female CEO from 2009 to 2011, told Barr. She cited “a Weber Shandwick report showing that, at companies run by women, a larger percentage of female executives express a desire to serve as a CEO someday.”
The predominantly male leadership of media produces symptoms like the debacle of sexual harassment at Fox News recently and the swift, expensive departure of Roger Ailes. The legal wranglings are not over yet.
The predominance of men at the top spots in media and in newsrooms creates at times a workplace culture that disadvantages women.
Representation of women in America’s newsrooms is about “one third of newsroom employees overall, with a higher number employed at online-only sites than at newspapers,” according to the 2016 Diversity Survey from the American Society of News Editors. “Women comprised 38 percent of daily newspaper employees in this year’s survey and nearly 50 percent of online news organization employees.”
Yet, the report shows, while “women were the majority of the workforce at 37 percent of the online sites,” they are only in the majority “at 14 percent of the daily newspapers. Of all supervisors, about 13 percent were minorities and 37 percent women.”
Speaking at the recent American Society of News Editors conference, president Mizell Stewart III said, “I’ve learned we have much work to do to ensure that the makeup of the nation’s newsrooms reflect the communities they serve. That’s why ASNE is focusing its energy and resources on diversifying the leadership of U.S. newsrooms, including our successful Emerging Leaders Institute.”
The positive news is some of the media giants are looking to be more inclusive of women’s news coverage.
Susan Chira was recently named gender editor at the New York Times. “Ms. Chira, who was previously the foreign editor for The Times for eight years and has helped oversee coverage that has won multiple Pulitzer Prizes, will cover gender for both the Opinion section and the newsroom. She will also help the editor of a new unit focused on gender issues that The Times plans to create. Ms. Chira has long been a champion of women in the newsroom,” writes Sydney Ember.
That one influential news organization aside, the representation of women in media leadership globally is still not at parity.
According to the International Women’s Media Foundation’s most recent Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media, “73 percent of the top management jobs are occupied by men compared to 27 percent occupied by women. Among the ranks of reporters, men hold nearly two-thirds of the jobs, compared to 36 percent held by women. However, among senior professionals, women are nearing parity with 41 percent of the news gathering and editing.”
According to the report, “The IWMF Global report identified glass ceilings for women in 20 of 59 nations studied. Most commonly, these invisible barriers were found in middle and senior management levels.”
Policies requiring gender equity at news organizations are not ubiquitous. “In the Americas, where just over a third (38 percent) of the 119 companies surveyed have a policy on gender equity, most of the nations do not appear to have a national- level law requiring gender equality in the workplace,” the report shows.
Research on women in leadership in media, advertising and publishing shows trends of women disappearing from the pipeline to the top early on in their careers.
Unveiled recently during Advertising Week, “The extensive study, “Accelerating the Path to Leadership for Women in Marketing and Media,” was commissioned in partnership with LinkedIn and Ernst & Young and looked at more than 4,000 companies. Results from the study account for roughly 3.7 million LinkedIn members,” writes Katie Richards in ADWEEK.
“She Runs It looked at men and women across seven disciplines in media and marketing including creative and media agencies, publishers and ad-tech companies. The results uncovered suggest that while 41 percent of “early stage professionals” are in media and marketing gigs, by the time you reach the executive leadership stage only 25 percent of those roles are filled by women.”
This could account for the shaping of media as we know it.
Writing in the Business Journalism Center recently, Debbi G. McCullough advised that there are five new themes to consider when writing about women in business. She advised there is new data, social reasons women want to be leaders, social barriers, new reports and a global context for women’s business growth.
Imagine for a moment a column offering advice on covering men in business that would limit the scope to five themes.
Still, the future for women in media is looking up. Bustle, a site with the mission of targeting millennial women with stories about women’s issues, is growing exponentially.
“Three years later, the site has become a magnet for 18- to 35-year-old women. Every month, the site draws a whopping 50 million unique visitors globally, 36 million of whom are in the U.S. It is on track to profitability.
In March, (founder Bryan) Goldberg raised a series D round of $11.5 million, bringing the total amount of capital raised to $38.5 million, a portion of which has been used for this redesign. ‘We’re trying to reach a mass audience,’ says Lindsey Green, Bustle‘s VP of corporate communications,” writes Elizabeth Segran in Fast Company.
Still, efforts to encourage and applaud women at the top in media is top of mind for many.
At its annual November luncheon, Women Who Lead, the Alliance for Women in Media will salute six women leading national media organizations. They are Abby Greensfelder, Co-CEO and Executive Producer at Half Yard Productions; Kim Guthrie, Executive Vice President of Cox Media Group and President of Cox Reps; Catherine L. Hughes, Chairperson and Founder of Radio One, Inc.; Paula A. Kerger, President and Chief Executive Officer of PBS; Karen Leever, Executive Vice President & General Manager, Digital Media of Discovery Communications and Ellen Levine, Editorial Director of Hearst Magazines.
According to AWM, the organization “is proud to showcase female executives for their extraordinary accomplishments and deep contributions across the media landscape,” said Kristen Welch, AWM Chair and SVP, Global Content Operations at Discovery Communications. “By honoring these outstanding women we are empowering all women, at every level, to take that next step in elevating their careers and their contributions.”
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com