The senior jobs on UK national newspapers still tend to be “overwhelmingly male”, an event on women and journalism heard last night.
And a high number of talented female journalists tend to drop out of the industry in their 30s because of the pressure of balancing a career and childcare, the event heard.
Smashing the Glass Ceiling at City University London was a panel discussion on how more women can get to the top in journalism.
The panelists were Sunday Mirror and People editor Alison Phillips, Sunday Times editorial director Eleanor Mills and New Statesman deputy editor Helen Lewis.
Phillips and Mills said they were both only able to continue their careers after having children because they had flexible editors. Mills, who was editor of The Sunday Times News Review section at the time, was allowed to work one day a week from home and Phillips, who was then features editor of the Daily Mirror, was allowed to return to work three days a week.
Mills (pictured above) said she was able to keep her career because she is “the main bread winner” in her family and that many of her friends who married bankers and accountants found that their own careers were “completely squeezed out”.
Talking in general about her advice for younger female journalists, she said: “What are your own expectations about how your life is going to go? If you are going to be a real big shot editor or columnist, that means that you are not going to necessarily be at the school gate.
“Somebody else is going to be there doing there doing their homework with them. Are you going to be okay with that?”
But she urged female journalists not drop out of the profession, saying: “Don’t give up, don’t stop, don’t go and become a PR…Hang in there because the sunny uplands are there on the other side.”
Mills described the “top end” of the national newspaper industry as “overwhelmingly male” and filled with “slightly beaten-up looking blokes in ill-fitting suits who need a stylist and haven’t got a life. It’s not surprising that most people don’t want to be like them.”
The New Statesman's Lewis said there were benefits to being a female journalist in an area dominated by men, as she is in politics. “If I were a man I would not be getting as much TV and radio work… booking a politics show on Sky they are fishing from a much smaller pool.”
Phillips said that the Mirror had more women reporters than men for a long time, “but suddenly they all disappeared. They were really talented people who had won awards but they got to 32 [and left the profession].”
She said that in her view it was “business critical” for her paper to have more “normal women” on the staff who were also picking up their children at the school gate and who reflected the paper’s readership.
Phillips also emphasised the positives of journalism as a career: “It is the best job in the world. You will never have such a laugh at work. You have got to love it and if you love it you will overcome all the difficulties.”
Asked for her general advice, she said: “Work as hard you can, don’t moan and just enjoy it. It’s brilliant. Journalism isn’t easy. The people who succeed are the people who work hard because they are passionate about it.”
Talking about the qualities needed to succeed in journalism, Mills said: “It’s the never the first call to the PR. Christina Lamb said to me you start by banging on the front door, and they say no. That’s not the end, that’s the beginning.
"It takes a particular kind of nosey parker, completely irrepressible, slightly shameless…if you are too much of a shrinking violet, forget it."