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Women just might achieve editorial leadership equity – in 50 years

March 26, 2024 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN
The topline: Equitable staffing is enabled by representation in leadership. Both create an environment more conducive to serving audiences' diverse needs. Unfortunately, editorial leadership remains largely male. 

Top editorial positions within news organizations are crucial in informing and shaping public discourse and understanding. The composition of these positions influences the narratives presented to the public and reflects the industry’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion—and to representing the diverse audience the news media serves.

That said, editorial roles are still largely filled by men. According to Reuters Institute’s Women and Leadership in the News Media 2024, only 24% of the 174 top editors across the 240 brands covered in the report are women, despite the fact that, on average, 40% of journalists in the 12 markets are women.

In its fifth annual report, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s Women and Leadership in the News Media 2024 highlights the representation of women in leadership roles within the journalism industry and offers insights into the ongoing disparities that persist. The research finds that, though there has been improvement, it is taking place at a glacial pace.

Under-representation of female editors

Reuters delves into the nuanced dynamics among 240 major online and offline news outlets in 12 diverse markets. The 12 markets include Kenya and South Africa; Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea in Asia; Finland, Germany, Spain, and the UK in Europe; Mexico and the US in North America; and Brazil in South America. The research examines cultural norms, institutional practices, and societal attitudes toward gender roles in each market.

This year’s study shows that although women constitute a significant proportion of journalists in many markets, their representation in top editorial positions remains disproportionately low. The subtle relationship between the percentage of female journalists and their representation in top editorial roles is evident. The research highlights the complex factors influencing career advancement in journalism and the broader news media landscape. Further, it indicates that external societal factors are not the primary impetus for this phenomenon. Rather, they are intrinsic to the profession and industry.

The report’s authors note the periodic industry focus on diversity and gender equity in the news media. Certainly, this is important as it drives change. However, they caution that the current interest in addressing the lack of diversity may be ebbing away.

These observations underscore the complex interplay of factors shaping the composition of top editorial roles. They suggest that addressing the issue requires a multifaceted approach that includes internal practices and industry culture. This recognition is crucial for fostering a more inclusive and representative media landscape that resonates with diverse audiences and rebuilds trust in journalistic institutions.

News media forecast for gender equity

This report emphasizes that while there’s been some progress over the years, the pace of change is very slow. For instance, Reuter’s analysis covering five years from 2020 to 2024 shows a marginal increase from 23% to 25% in the proportion of women among top editors. However, projections cautiously suggest that achieving gender parity in these positions could be an achievable, if a distant, goal. A linear projection based on the observed two-percentage-point change over four years indicates potential gender parity by 2074. Alternatively, conducting an average analysis across five years and 10 markets suggests that achieving gender parity among top editors may never occur at the current rate of change.

Further, the change varies within our sample. In six countries, the percentage of women in top editorial positions increased compared to 2020. Conversely, Mexico (6%) and Japan (0%) remained unchanged, while Germany (from 27% to 25%) and South Africa (from 47% to 29%) decreased.

As the research continues to track developments in gender diversity among top editors globally, it underscores the need for proactive measures to address systemic inequalities. The journalism industry must strive toward a more representative and responsive media landscape by prioritizing a culture of empowerment and support for women in leadership.

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