'Glass newsroom' concerns in new journalism gender gap report

Seven in ten female journalists say newsroom leadership male dominated, survey

Journalism gender gap

A new report has found that women still feel excluded from having power in the UK news media industry.

Some 1,200 UK journalists contacted via the Cision database responded to a survey about gender diversity in journalism. Of these, 73% said they believe career progression is more difficult for women in the news industry than it is for men.

More than half (54%) of female journalists who filled out the survey are concerned about their own career progression, according to the report released by consultancy Man Bites Dog and Women in Journalism.

Women in Journalism, which is chaired by Daily Mirror editor Alison Phillips, called on men and women in the industry to take note of the gender gap in news and “take action in leadership, culture change and peer support to make journalism the inclusive profession our society needs”.

Phillips said the survey “exposes the shocking truth that the gender gap in journalism stubbornly persists.

“The media is the prism through which the world sees itself. For it to be fair and accurate we need all kinds of people from a host of diverse backgrounds telling all sorts of stories. That makes great journalism.”

Some 70% of female journalists completing the survey said that the most senior roles are still dominated by men, with 59% of men agreeing.

Three-quarters (74%) of male and female journalists agreed that a “macho and intimidating culture” remains in some newsrooms. In national newspapers this figure rose to 81%.

A third of UK national newspaper editors (excluding the Scottish nationals) are now women.

The report said: “The inequality of female representation amongst media decision-makers and in the news conference room is a major concern and raises the question of whether the media has a ‘glass newsroom’, excluding women from power.

“A lack of gender balance in leadership not only impacts editorial decision-making about which stories are told, but can also perpetuate a culture that fails to include and engage women in journalism.”

Eight in ten (81%) of female journalists responding to the survey feel that “high status” journalism specialisms such as hard news, business and politics remain male-dominated.

This is borne out by the shortlists for Press Gazette’s British Journalism Awards over the past ten years, with just 23% of business/economic/finance shortlists made up of women and 26% of politics nominations. This compares to gender equity in the arts and entertainment and interview categories.

The number of female British Journalism Awards finalists has increased in recent years, helped by the fact that fort he last two years women who do not have a publisher willing to pay for their entry can enter the event for free.

Among all survey respondents the greatest concerns about female career progression were in the consumer magazine sector (77%) followed by nationals (76%) and broadcast and digital, both on 72%. The lowest concerns were in the regional newspaper sector, where 67% viewed progression as more difficult for women. In the trade/B2B sector 70%).

The report questioned whether tokenism could be one hurdle, with 52% of female journalists believing there is still a perception that one “token woman” is enough in a senior position. Just 24% of men agreed this was the case – but the report noted there was often a discrepancy in the perceptions of each gender.

“Many of the challenges faced by women in journalism were simply not seen by their male colleagues to the same degree,” it said.

Similarly just 19% of female journalists believe there is adequate gender diversity in journalism – compared to 35% of their male colleagues.

To crack the progression issues, the report called on media organisations to invest “more energy in nurturing a diverse talent pipeline” which includes actively tackling gender discrimination, age discrimination and concerns about poor pay among women.

Claire Mason, chief executive and founder of Man Bites Dog, said: “The gender news gap is pervasive for women in journalism, but apparently invisible to their male colleagues. It is critical that the media industry recognises the existence of the gender news gap and takes action to foster more diverse and inclusive cultures.”

One of the key issues for women remains juggling work after becoming a parent, something that still affects them more than it does their male colleagues.

Some 83% of journalists shared concerns that the expectations of the modern media industry, including inflexible schedules and unsocial hours, make it harder for women to return to work full-time. In London this challenge was even more acute, on 90%.

Women often take jobs without the same potential for progression, benefits or visibility once they have children, the report found, and 83% of female journalists believe they are more likely to go freelance as the expectations of staff jobs are incompatible with motherhood. Just 51% of male journalists had noticed this phenomenon among their female colleagues.

The report suggested newsrooms should seize the opportunities created by normalised remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing more parents to return to work “without compromising their career ambitions”.

[Read more: Pandemic-led changes to newsrooms look to be permanent, and global - report]

Despite the positive effects of more remote working, including staff being more efficient, 61% of female journalists said they experienced a negative impact on their mental health as a result of dealing with domestic work, childcare and/or other caring responsibilities.

In addition, the survey female journalists were more than twice as likely to be furloughed than their male colleagues and 40% more likely to be made redundant during the pandemic.

Despite the challenges across the industry, there is was general consensus in the survey (95%) that having a diversity of journalists is important to be relevant and interesting to readers. Some 92% believe a balance between male and female journalists is essential to properly represent key societal issues.

Less than a quarter (23%) of male and female journalists combined rated gender diversity in the media as good or excellent.

The report also called for better measurement of workforce diversity. Some 23% of media directors and founders in the survey said their organisation measures the gender or ethnic diversity of their journalists..

Picture: Flickr/WOCinTech Chat

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