The Women's Media Center (WMC), an organization dedicated to expanding the power and visibility of women and girls, recently released a report titled, "Divided 2019: The Media Gender Gap," which reveals the state of gender parity in media.
Although representation has increased slightly in the past few years, it is still woefully out of balance with only 37% of all analyzed reports having been produced by women.
Not to mention that female journalists are still being paid less, harassed more, and promoted into fewer managerial positions than their male counterparts. Being a woman in media is basically the career equivalent of playing a contact sport with no protective padding, but with every year there are more organizations out there dedicated to fighting these deep gender divides by increasing awareness and giving women in media greater opportunities to lift each other up.
The issue of gender parity in media can be traced all the way back to the classroom. But not because of a lack of students. In fact, there are more female journalism students than ever before; they outnumber their male peers two to one. The problem is a lack of retention from the classroom to the field. Poynter blames the lack of leadership opportunities, causing some women to leave journalism for careers with more room for growth. Whereas the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) recently put out a study that suggests the cycles of abuse and harassment (both inside and outside of the newsroom) may be encouraging female journalists to consider leaving their positions. Whatever the cause, the effect is the same: media is not and has never been fairly representative of all genders. But that does not mean it is time to quit; now, more than ever, women are digging in their heals and fighting for their right to equal representation in media.
Whatever the cause, the effect is the same: media is not and has never been fairly representative of all genders
From sexual harassment to interoffice power dynamics, women in the media world have a steep uphill battle just to make it through the day, let alone break into management. And considering that gender-based discrimination is more common in workplaces with worse gender parity, it's no wonder that women make up only 27% of top management positions in journalism. Catherine Mayer, author, journalist, and co-founder of the Equality Party in the UK, has said that she "[doesn't] know of one female journalist who hasn't been discriminated against at work." Despite this struggle, there are women all over the world, like Mayer, who are rising up the ranks to conquer their fields. Some are even taking it a step further by creating organizations to work towards repairing this flawed system and supporting the people in it. The Coalition for Women in Journalism is one such group, "bridging gaps through support" by offering mentoring, global assistance, and even an outlet to safely report harassment. It is groups like this and people like Mayer that are paving the way to evening the playing field for women in media.
Unfortunately, discrimination within the office is just one of the many hurdles that women in media face on a daily basis. Self-promoting on social media and interacting with audiences online has become a crucial part of any journalist's career, but to do so women must grapple with mansplaining, unwanted sexual advances, and death threats from complete strangers. For anybody in a public position, some level of negative interaction can be expected, but women tend to face this torment at a much higher rate than men. Furthermore, they are attacked for extremely different reasons. According to Liz Plank, correspondent and host at Vox, "Men get attacked for their opinions, and women get attacked because they have opinions."
"Simply using her voice can put a target on any woman's back."
A study on the impact of attacks and harassment on female journalists by the IWMF found that 67% of all women surveyed reported being harassed online at least once. And a third of the respondents who had experienced harassment did not report it to their managers, for various reasons, including a lack of expected assistance and even a fear of being labeled a "troublemaker." To help encourage women to come forward with their stories of harassment, the Women's Media Center Speech Project is giving voice to these issues and offering tools to seek help. Facing online harassment can feel like a solitary struggle; it's easy to get lost in a social media black hole scrolling through the trolls, but it's something that all women, particularly those in media, face every single day. Bringing attention to this rampant harassment is encouraging even more people to step forward and create a more supportive network amongst their peers.
The media world's gender gap exacerbates the challenges women already face in this problematic industry, but these common concerns also bind them in a united cause. Despite this pervasive sexism, forces like the Coalition for Women in Journalism and the WMC Speech Project are putting a spotlight on these issues, acting as outlets to seek support and galvanizing their peers through shared experience.
Every single woman in media is fighting to change this gender divide for the better, simply by being a part of the industry and making themselves heard. It is the power of those voices that will bridge the gender gap, creating a better future for women in media. As Gloria Steinem once wrote, "[w]hen unique voices are united in a common cause, they make history."
This article was originally published May 17, 2019.
WRITTEN BYEmily Jane Hutton