Levelling the playing field for women in media

In fact, the media industry has much to gain by bringing social equity and parity to women in its employment and to consumers. It seems like a win-win proposition.  So why isn’t it happening?  Largely, it is because the roots of male dominated business run deep and any shift would require large cultural changes to take hold. But it starts with awareness and a willingness to make the changes happen.

Media crossroads ()

Employment equity facts 

  • In terms of media, women are underrepresented in the overall labor pool. According to the American Society of News Editors’ latest report, on average, women make up only 37 per cent of newsroom staff.
  • Women are underrepresented in media management. The same report found that women hold only 35 percent of supervisor roles.
  • Women are underpaid compared to their male counterparts. According to a 2015 survey by the Writer’s Union of Canada, female writers earn only 55 per cent of what their male counterparts make.
  • Women are also underemployed. According to a 2014 report titled Gender Composition of the Workforce, women were underemployed 75 per cent more than men in media.

Are female writers being heard?

Not only is the employment gap a challenge for women, but so is the availability of female-centric journalistic outlets for women that allow them to be published and heard. They are relatively few compared to the number of publications industrywide, but they are growing. There are great examples of female-focused opinion sites in Australia including RendezView, which features female writers from News Corp, as well as Daily Life, Mamamia, and Women’s Agenda. In the US, Slate established The XX Factor, and the Huffington Post has HuffPost Women, and Vice recently launched Broadly.

Women in media ()

In a recent article in the Guardian, Lou Heinrich refers to these news sections and new media publications targeted at women as ’pink ghettoes’. As Heinrich puts it, these are sites where topics such parenting, cooking, fashion, celebrity, beauty, body positivity, sex, and feminism dominate. However, the bigger challenge is letting women have a voice and be published on more substantive matters. There the gap between men and women seems to be much wider.

In a report from the Women’s Media Center, looking at a three-month span in 2014, 65 per cent of US political stories published were written by men. Another 2014 study, conducted by the Science Byline Counting Project, revealed that while men and women wrote comparable numbers of science, technology, engineering and math related stories (855 from women to 867 from men), 81 percent of those published in Scientific American were by men, and 73 percent of those published in Wired were also authored by men.

How to amplify women’s’ voices 

It seems clear the voice of authority in mainstream media is overwhelmingly provided by men, and it is not showing signs of changing anytime soon. As the Global Media Monitoring Project reported in June of 2015, ’there has been only a one per cent increase in the past five years when only 24 percent of the people heard or read about in print, radio and television news were female.’ Lou Heinrich said it most succinctly when she wrote, ’By and large, amplifying women’s voices is positive and a step forward for the legitimisation of feminine experience, but to denigrate women writers only to women readers reinforces patriarchy: the idea that mainstream society is constructed by and for men.’

Female talent is plentiful

Now for the good news. There is no shortage of female writers available. Women account for approximately 73 per cent of journalism graduates and constitute about 70 per cent of enrollees in MFA programs in the U.S., according to a report from the Women’s Media Center. Also, a 2012 Freelance Industry Report of more than 50 professions found that 71 per cent of freelancers were female. 

Furthermore, women consumers make for lucrative ad revenue for media companies. Women control about US$20tn in annual consumer spending worldwide, and that figure was projected to climb as high as $28tn according to the Harvard Business Review. The media industry only has an upside if they could appeal to and attract more female readers and employees. Media companies can certainly move the needle in terms of equality and pay, and in doing so, set the bar for other industries to keep pace. 

Equity drives real economic benefits

The long term benefits across the globe and the economic spectrum are almost unfathomable. In April 2016, McKinsey Global Institute reported the challenge for gender equality was at a critical level and making gender parity in the United States alone, would grow the U.S. GDP by $2.1tn in 2025. Just imagine what the global impact could be.

Surely the media knows a good story when they see one. There is an opportunity for the media industry to establish a higher standard of inclusiveness for women in all ranks of their business, thereby laying to rest the patriarchal notion that mainstream media is constructed by and for men.

More like this

Time Inc. acquires HelloGiggles, a leading mobile and social millennial women’s lifestyle brand

Time Inc. acquires websites aimed at women

Bustle editor-in-chief Kate Ward on being the fastest growing women’s interest site

Your first step to joining FIPP's global community of media leaders

Sign up to FIPP World x