When it comes to the representation and visibility of women across all media platforms, the industry still comes up short. That’s what The Status of Women In the US Media 2021, a report by Women’s Media Center (WMC), — an organization founded by Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Robin Morgan — found. Among the U.S.’s top five Sunday news shows more than two-thirds of the guests were men, and most of those guests were white men. While research into gender representation in prime-time broadcast and cable news, print, digital, and wires found that women told only 41% of stories, and just 15% of sports stories.
“This report will help to hold news media accountable for the persistent inequalities in media,” said Steinem in the report .“ Women must be visible and powerful in all aspects of media if American society is ever to be a real democracy.” While the struggle continues, strides are being made — thanks, in part, to top down initiatives.
The gender gap is closing — slowly
According to the Global Media Monitoring Project, things are slowly improving globally. However, the numbers make the U.S. media look like a beacon of hope in terms of inclusion and equality. Between 1995 to 2020, across 120 nations, the number of female news sources and subjects increased from 16% to 24% in newspapers, 15% to 24% in radio news, 21% to 26% in TV news, and 25% to 27% online.
Coverage during Covid-19 was particularly startling, with WMC reporting women comprised just 5% of experts in science, technology, engineering and math, and a third of people quoted in 146,867 articles about the pandemic, in the likes of The New York Times and USA Today.
“One productive step forward would be for media companies to release employment numbers by gender, race, and position,” said Julie Burton, President and CEO, in WMC’s report. “This transparency would allow comprehensive tracking of progress or regress for diverse women in the workplace. We recommend that managers and editors establish standards that require producers, bookers, and journalists to make sure the experts interpreting news stories include representative numbers of women and people of color to ensure that stories are told with authenticity and accuracy.”
Driving diversity with data
The WMC has a database for this exact purpose. SheSource connects journalists, bookers and producers with more than 1,000 female, media-friendly experts in a number of fields, ranging from politics to technology. It is these experts that a growing number of media organizations are seeking out and putting center stage. The BBC launched its 50:50 Project in 2016 to push for gender parity in its content using a data-driven methodology to monitor its content. What started in one newsroom has become a global initiative, used by 150 external partners, spanning 30 countries. These include the Financial Times, Australia’s ABC News and Times Radio, as well as partners in academia, conference businesses, law, public relations and the corporate world.
“It is well established in the BBC and we have got 750 teams filling in spreadsheets every day of every month,” says Miranda Holt, 50:50 External Partners Lead. “It’s very empowering to content makers, because it’s about what you can control. For example, we don’t count politicians or people in the news, but we do count the number of women we interview about that news. It’s about collecting data to effect change.”
In the most recent Impact Report report in March 2022, 61% of all BBC teams reached 50% representation of women in their content. While external partners (of whom 70 out of 145 shared their data) showed a 73% improvement in female representation, after one year of sharing data.
Bloomberg’s New Voices is another successful initiative, which has already made significant strides in amplifying the voices of women. Since launching in early 2018, outside guest appearances of women on Bloomberg Television have increased from 10% to 26%. The program has also provided media training to over 180 women all around the globe, who have gone on to appear more than 530 times on Bloomberg Television, as well as other media outlets.
Equity at every level
Another way to ensure gender equity in content, is to ensure equity in content creators. If the newsroom doesn’t reflect society, the content it produces isn’t likely to either. Even though women outnumber men in journalism programs and colleges, they become the minority voice soon after entering the workforce. On average, women represent 41.7% of newsroom employees and produce 37% of reports. Furthermore, men account for 69% of all newswire bylines published by the Associated Press and Reuters, 63% of prime-time news anchors or correspondents, and write 60% of all online news.
Emma Tucker is the first female editor of the Sunday Times in 100 years and says she is all too aware of the impact her newsroom has on its readership. “We are very conscious of the need to diversify our newsrooms,” Tucker says. “It’s a work in progress, but we are aware of it. For example, we encourage applications from as broad a pool as possible to our graduate and apprenticeship schemes and we are making strides there. We know that if we want to grow our audience and build new cohorts of Sunday Times subscribers, we need to produce content that matters to a more diverse audience.”
Holt agrees it makes good commercial and economic sense to increase female representation in the newsroom and beyond. While 50:50 is about content and not about content creators, it naturally has a knock-on effect.
“The BBC has set new targets for the end of 2023 for our workforce to aim for 50% women representation, 20% Black, Asian and minority ethnic, 12% disabled and 25% from lower socio-economic backgrounds,” explains Holt. “These figures are based on the demographics of the UK, and as the national broadcaster it’s the people of the UK who pay for BBC content, so we have to represent them. And senior leaders are being held to this.”
Leadership is at the heart of a recent report by Reuters Institute, which analyzed the gender breakdown of top editors in 240 major online and offline news outlets in 12 different markets, across five continents. The results are shocking with women representing just 21% of the 179 top editors, despite the fact that, on average, 40% of journalists are women. The good news is that the U.S. and U.K. appear to be flying the flag for female leaders in the media, as half or more of new top editors appointed there in the last year were women.
Closing the pay gap
Not only are there fewer female reporters, they also earn less than their male colleagues, according to the WMC report. At the Associated Press there is a pay gap of $15,000 between white, male journalists and black, female reporters, while female reporters on the LA Times take home $14,334 less than their male counterparts. Similarly, at the New York Times, for reporters with annual salaries of $150k or more, only 36% are women. Working at the Washington Post? Women can expect to be paid 86 cents for every dollar white men are paid.
However, there are exceptions. Walt Disney Co. has just released data on employee earning by race and gender for the first time, revealing that women earn 99.4% of men. However, as Natasha Lamb, a managing partner at Arjuna Capita who put forward the proposal for the report, points out: “Disney is stepping into an elite group that are showing leadership on pay equity.” Transparency, it seems, is still a rarity rather than the norm.
While we should applaud these organizations working toward gender equity there is still much work to do. One reason could be that leaders in news media across the world believe their organizations already do a good job in terms of gender diversity, and therefore do not collect or make available data about their diversity. Or they don’t even have anyone formally in charge of this vital process.
But this has to change. Greater transparency is key, with media companies releasing employment numbers by gender and position. While creating new talent strategies to support and promote women in media, will ensure the “pipeline” excuse is buried deep underground, once and for all. According to Katica Roy, the founder and CEO of Pipeline Equity, these strategies should include hiring, pay, promotion, performance, and potential.
Representation leads to engagement
The word “engagement” is constantly used in media circles, but you can’t engage with your audience without representing the diversity of their communities. “Ultimately, any company that creates content should be thinking about how they appear to the external world, and how they represent society fairly,” says Holt. “This leads to diversity in the workforce at every level in a dynamic way, by identifying people, progressing people, and retaining those people. Only then can the media and its content truly reflect and represent women. Only then we will truly have gender equity.”