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When diversity in newsrooms and newsleadership is not enough


In the latest in a series of personal reflections on womens role in the media, Luba Kassova, author of The Missing Perspectives of Women in News reflects on why she believes women in newsrooms are counted but not included in the decision making.

Have you ever expressed a view that was dismissed or trivialised immediately? Have you ever worked in a news organisation where you felt invisible or uncomfortable about challenging the status quo? If you have, I would suggest that you are most likely to be a woman or a person of colour and least likely to be a white man.

News organisations, like many others, often view achieving gender equity as a linear process. The underlying assumed theory of change is that the more women are recruited into newsrooms and hired or promoted to top leadership roles, the more female-centric the organisation's news content will become and the more inclusive of women's perspectives the organisation and its news will be.

But is this really the case? Does diversity in news organisations guarantee inclusivity and gender egalitarianism in news?

This year, after 170 years of men in charge, Alessandra Galloni became Reuters' first Editor-in-Chief, while Sally Buzbee brought 143 years of male leadership to an end at The Washington Post, becoming its first female Executive Editor. In 2020 Roula Khalaf became Financial Times' first female Editor in 131 years. The same year, Nwabisa Makunga became the first female Editor of South Africa's The Sowetan newspaper, 40 years after its launch. These appointments followed those of Kath Viner in 2015 as the Guardian's first female Editor-in-Chief, after 194 years of men occupying the top spot, and, in the same year, Zanny Minton Beddoes, as The Economist's first female Editor-in-Chief, after 170 years of male dominance.

Yet it was 130 years ago in 1891, that Rachel Beer became the first female Editor of The Observer and the owner-proprietor of The Sunday Times. In The Fleet Street Girls, the story of the trailblazing women who broke into the exclusive men's club of journalism in the UK, the author Julie Welch ponders: Something about Rachel Beer that I would love to have learned is whether she employed women on either of her papers. None are mentioned in the book... This powerful question points to a key challenge that news organisations still wrestle with today: namely that gender parity in newsrooms or a female leader at the top of an organisation does not guarantee equity, inclusivity or more gender-balanced content.

Visibility A pronoun analysis conducted by the international strategy consultancy AKAS, which examined women's share of quoted voice as sources, protagonists or experts in the online editions of 19 news outlets between August 2020 and August 2021 found that none of the above-mentioned news organisations led by women editors are even close to gender parity in terms of share of voice.

Share of Voice - Women

Guardian Media ranks 5th with 37%

The Washington Post ranks 8th with 35%.

The Sowetan ranks 12th with 31%.

Reuters ranks 16th with 24%

Financial Times ranks 19th with 24%.

The Economist ranks 19th with 20%.

Source: AKAS

These results echo the findings of the 2020 The Missing Perspectives of Women in News report which concluded that women's voices continue to be marginalised in news in the 21st century. That report also found that there was no strong relationship between the proportion of women being news editors in a country and the proportion of women featuring in the news.

Gender Pay Gap A gender pay gap analysis of the latest available data in the UK, again conducted by AKAS reveals that 95% of the news organisations tracked have not reached gender parity on this dimension either. Out of 20 news organisations researched in the UK, the Guardian fared best, with the second lowest gender pay gap in terms of median hourly pay. Nevertheless, women's median hourly pay was 4.9% lower than men's. By contrast, with an hourly pay gap of 15.9% and 17.6% in favour of men, the Financial Times and Reuters ranked 13th and 14th on women's hourly median pay, while The Economist was 17th with women's hourly pay being 19.3% lower than men's.

Amount women paid less than men (median hourly wage)

Guardian women ranks 2nd with 4.9%

Financial Times ranks 13th with 15.9%

Reuters ranks 14th with 17.6%

The Economist ranks 17th with 19.3%

Source: Gov.UK - gender pay gap

Newsrooms may be led by women, but the cultures are quite masculine and very patriarchal.

Nwabisa Makunga, Editor, The Sowetan

Why does diversity at the top of news organisations not lead to equality in pay? Research and some news organisations' own investigations point to organisational culture getting in the way . Frequently women and people of colour feel on the periphery of organisational culture. Even when they make up half of newsrooms and news leadership teams, as is the case at the New York Times, women (and especially women of colour) do not feel that their perspectives are heard and acted upon, as the latest New York Times Diversity and Inclusion report revealed.

A study published in 2012 in the European Journal of Communication by Hanitzsch and Hanusch in 2012, found that once in newsrooms, women and men operate within the same professional standards and make similar professional choices. The authors conclude that journalists' professional identity in news organisations overrides their gender or other identities. Journalists choose to play by the existing spoken and unspoken cultural rules. This may partly explain why news outlets such as The Economist, which has been led by a female Editor for the last six years, remain significantly biased towards men's voices in their news outputs as well as in their pay.

Newsrooms may be led by women,
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