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Moving the dial on gender equality in newsrooms

Gender equality in newsrooms will not come about without systematic changes in the culture, leadership and systems within the publishing industry.

This was the warning from a panel of experts discussing how to drive diversity and inclusion in newsrooms during the 3rd week of FIPP’s World Media Congress.

The discussion was moderated by Angela Henshall, the BBC 50:50 Equality Project’s External Partners Manager and a Senior Digital Journalist and Deputy Editor at bbc.com. The 50:50 Equality Project, which aims to inspire and support the BBC and other media organisations to consistently create journalism and media content that fairly represents gender and diversity, was born in the BBC’s London newsroom and uses a methodology that is rooted in data, creativity, practicality and passion to fundamentally shift representation within the media.

Gender representation and diversity is about power. It’s about seeding power at the top and it’s also crucially about making sure that the people at the top, those making decisions, come from the most diverse range of society.

Meera Selva, Reuters Institute for the Study of Jounalism

Panel member Meera Selva, Director of the Journalist Fellowship Programme at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, praised the success of this initiative by the BBC. She said one of the best things about the BBC’s 50:50 Equality Project has been the creation and utilisation of data to determine how many women are on screen and are being asked for comment or opinion. Although this sounds fairly straightforward, it has taken a very long time for organisations to start doing just this.

Seeding power at the top

At the Reuters Institute they wanted to do something similar but their focus was on leadership. “Ultimately gender representation and diversity is about power. It’s about seeding power at the top and it’s also crucially about making sure that the people at the top, those making decisions, come from the most diverse range of society. And with gender in particular there is little excuse for it not to be 50 per cent.”

This year they picked ten countries from around the world and looked at the ten online and offline brands in every country to count how many of these brands have female editors. The statistics from 200 brands across ten markets proved that only 23 per cent of editors were women, despite the fact that 40 per cent of journalists in the 10 countries were female.

Japan was the worst example with no women editors and South Africa the best represented with 47 per cent. Percentages for other countries were: Mexico (6 per cent), South Korea (11 per cent), Hong Kong (13 per cent), Brazil (22 per cent), Germany (27 per cent), the UK (29 per cent), Finland (33 per cent) and the US (41 per cent).

They also looked at several other factors, such as the percentage of online news users in each country being exposed to news sources led by female editors. These statistics will be updated each year to be able to analyse trends and find solutions for the future.

Responding to a question by Henshall who asked if this lack in women editors could be because female talent is only now starting to break to the top, Selva insisted that the so-called “pipeline” issue has often been used as an excuse for the lack of female editors. This, however, is not acceptable. Apart from Japan, most countries have had talented and capable female journalists for many years and they should have risen to the top a long time ago.

The 20th century saw the rise of women, the 21st century is watching countries and companies adapt to a seismic shift.

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, 20-First

Don’t shoehorn women into existing systems

“It’s a different conversation now. We need to look at what people think leadership looks like. What do people think a news editor looks like. What attributes are needed…” said Selva.

For this to happen, she warned, huge changes need to be made within the news industry and organisations itself. “For the news industry to continue to do what it is doing and merely shoehorn women into an existing model would be futile… The news industry is dysfunctional on many levels, she said. “We need to change. We need to change the way we work, the way we speak to audiences, we need to change the stories we tell as journalists.”

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of 20-First, a consultancy that supports companies to adapt to global trends in gender, nationality, and generational issues, agreed. She pointed out, however, that media companies are not that different from many other companies worldwide and that there is a major shift happening already. “The 20th century saw the rise of women, the 21st century is watching countries and companies adapt to a seismic shift. Different countries and different organisations are at different places on how quickly they are adapting.”

She said if business leaders decide “it is a strategic priority to (address gender diversity) and address it with management attention…and the right people leading it, you do see progress”.

Changing culture, systems and leadership

Wittenberg-Cox warned that replacing men in newsrooms with women who act and behave like men would be failure. She referenced some organisations that try to “fix the women” by having them adapt or mimic men and their career style. “That’s when you get stats of women that don’t make it…”

The real challenge, she said, is to change the culture, the systems and the leadership culture to “get women all the way through”. To achieve this, organisations need both the will to change and the skill to achieve change. While many have the will, not many have the skills.

To develop those skills, leadership first needs to align and prepare managers to lead them through this process of gender balance. This will allow the culture of the organisation to change towards an awareness and skills for all managers to empower mixed talent. Lastly, lasting change will not happen without the systems to drive it. Many of these systems will need to be reviewed to streamline human resource processes in accordance with diversity challenges.

Better to ask “How can women and men build a more balanced newsroom for everybody?” than: “How can we fight toxic masculinity in the organisation?”

Guilherme Valadares, PapodeHomen

Talking to men who don’t want to talk

Guilherme Valadares, Content Director at PapodeHomen in Brazil, an online “movement” for the transformation of men in an equal society, said he learnt six important lessons from the 13 years he has been talking to and working with men who actually don’t want to talk about gender equality.

One of his current key projects is to work with the editorial team of Folha de S.Paulo, one of the largest newspapers in Brazil, leading emotional balance courses for journalists under the umbrella of gender inclusion.

The six lessons are:

  1. A lack of empathy for the problem of equality (from men). Only eight per cent of men acknowledged their own lack of empathy for the problem, but instead displayed aggressiveness towards the topic of blamed opposing parties of being “too radical” or displaying “bad arguments”;
  2. The need to understand that the language used to express issues of gender equality matters more than people think. Therefore it is worth experimenting with the way you express yourself in gender debates. One example he used is that men respond much better to a question such as: “How can women and men build a more balanced newsroom for everybody?” than being asked: “How can we fight toxic masculinity in the organisation?”;
  3. The importance of building compassionate hooks into the gender debate. This can be achieved by including men’s issues into the conversation;
  4. The value of showing how emotional balance training benefits gender balance and the cultivation of inclusion in newsrooms;
  5. The need for long term strategies and structures to achieve change. This includes the appointment of voluntary training ambassadors, committees and metrics to measure success; and 
  6. The necessity to get buy-in from company leadership to support these goals. 

Piet van Niekerk

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