Women in the Newsroom Continue to Face Inequality

Despite advances in equality over the years, discrimination is still present in many careers – and journalism is no exception. Print, television and radio newsrooms all still have this inequity present in their staff statistics today.

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According to the American Society of News Editors and the Radio Television Digital News Association, roughly 39% of print newspaper staff, 43.9% of local television news staff, and 36.1% of local radio staff are women – less than half the workforce in each field.
According to the Women’s Media Center
(WMC), women outnumber men in terms of college enrollment in journalism programs. However, this does not translate to the newsroom, as they also reported that women only made up 41.7% of the newsrooms surveyed. So, why do women not outnumber men in the workforce, or at least have more equal numbers?

One potential cause of this inequity is the persistent gender pay gap. Although paying women less for doing the same job as a man is illegal, the wage gap continues to affect many careers, with women earning an average of 82% what men make, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW)’s 2019 report. This inequality is present in even some of the largest newsrooms around the country, like the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Women entering the field may be discouraged by this reality, and opt for a different field that may pay more.

This issue may not necessarily mean that women and men are being paid differently for doing the same job; it may be that women are not offered the same opportunities that men in the newsroom are. In a 2017 Radio Television Digital News Association and Hofstra University Newsroom Survey, only 22.2% of general managers at radio stations were women, 28.3% of news directors were women and women made up only 34.3% of the radio workforce. Of the reporting radio newsrooms, 51.7% had at least one woman on staff – 48.3% were entirely men.

Sports is an especially difficult beat for female reporters to break into. According to the Women’s Media Center, the Associated Press Sports Editors commissioned a “Racial and Gender Report Card,” which did not find favorable results in terms of equality.

“Sports desks at 75 of the nation’s newspapers and online news sites earned a “B+” for racial diversity,” the report says, “a “D+” for gender and racial diversity, combined, and a sixth consecutive “F” for lack of gender equity.”

In response to this, organizations like the Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM) have sprung up in order to help combat this, through awarding internships and scholarships to students, and hosting an annual convention to encourage networking and support for its members.

“AWSM works to promote and increase diversity in sports media through career-enhancement networking and mentoring initiatives,” their website says, “as well as the internship/scholarship program – which has placed more than 150 female college students in paid summer positions since 1990.”

Another reason that women may not be offered the same opportunities as men relates to their personal lives: employers may be concerned about women needing more time off due to maternity leave. A TIME article from 2016 reports that some employers do not hire women because they consider it to be a “risky” business move. Journalists typically put in long hours and may not see a high payout; this may discourage young mothers from entering the field and spending time away from their families without earning enough to support them.

In a 2018 article by Natalie Pattillo for the Columbia Journalism Review, titled “Notoriously hard on moms, the news business isn’t getting much better,” Pattillo tells the story of an El Paso news anchor, Maria Garcia, who received six weeks paid maternity leave but needed an extended leave due to a medical condition. She was allowed a three month leave, and received only half her salary after the first six weeks. When her son was two months old, she was faced with a decision: stay home with her newborn, or return to work and earn her full salary. She opted to financially support her family.

Garcia’s story is a familiar one for many working moms in journalism. In the world of breaking news, many journalists are expected to work long days, unusual hours, evenings and weekends. For a parent – particularly a new parent – this may create the dilemma of devoting oneself to their family, or their career. A 2015 study from the University of Kansas found that women journalists were more susceptible to changing careers than their male counterparts. The study surveyed 1600 journalists, and found that 67% of the women surveyed either intended to leave the field, or were unsure if they would remain in the field in the future.

“Society puts certain expectations on people based on their gender from a very young age,” the study says. “Where women are more often expected to provide the majority of family care and raise children, men are expected to be the breadwinners and put work obligations before family. That was supported by the findings, showing that women experience significantly higher rates of role overload or feel that they are unable to complete their assigned duties in the work time allowed.”

This inequality is present in higher up positions as well. In the article “Women dominate journalism schools, but newsrooms are still a different story,” written by Catherine York for Poynter, York writes that “as women continue to leave careers in journalism, fewer fill leadership roles.” The Columbia Journalism Review’s 2018 “Who’s the Boss” analysis revealed that 73% of editors surveyed were men.

“As in many professions, women who make their way to the top — as Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor at The New York Times, did — find themselves negatively labeled for their leadership styles,” York says.

Abramson was fired in May 2014 and says that her gender “played a role” in her departure, though her former employer denied this accusation. She had previously spoken out about her salary, and even hired a lawyer, because it was not equal to that of her predecessor, Bill Keller’s.

“The higher women go, the more disliked they are, which is not true for men,” Abramson wrote in an email, according to York.

This inequality does not end with the newsroom; it continues even to higher journalism honors. The Women’s Media Center’s 2017 “Status of Women in U.S. Media report says that 84% of Pulitzer Prizes over the last century were awarded to men.

While women in journalism may face several hurdles in achieving their career goals, but continuing to break barriers and fight for equality will open doors for others.

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