Women continue to make strides in the media landscape. Recent research shows women make up 41.7% of newsroom employees, yet we still have a long way to go for equality. This includes pay inequality, harassment, career advancement, and more.
Who tells the story significantly impacts how the story is told. With most news stories told by men, it inevitably results in more male subjects and witnesses. This disproportionate under-representation of women as storytellers as well as subjects has only intensified during the pandemic.
It will take time to dismantle systemic barriers that have been in place for decades. But we all can make a difference. It will require a concerted effort by leadership in media and courage from women and the men who champion them.
As we approach International Women’s Day, here are five ways we can #ChooseToChallenge the representation of women in media.
1. Mentor & Support Other Women
While women hold almost half the media and entertainment positions overall and tend to get promoted more often than men, only 27% have C-suite positions, according to McKinley’s 2019 Women in Workplace study. The glass ceiling is still very much a factor for women in media.
Once you are in a position of power, it’s important to provide mentorship to other women. Many newsrooms are trying to establish a more inclusive environment, but this has not fully translated into senior positions. This is especially true for women of color.
Women editors and executives can create an inclusive environment that nurtures diverse talent while drawing attention to the inequalities women face in the newsroom and inspiring others to do better.
2. Build a Network
The workplace can be a competitive environment, especially in journalism. Women are often played against one another to move ahead. It’s important to remember that we are stronger together.
Building a network of women at all levels creates a positive and supportive environment that allows women to make connections. These connections can provide job opportunities, project collaborations, and sharing of resources.
There are networks, resources, and tools specifically for female journalists to handle online harassment, workplace discrimination, and gender-based violence. Supporting each other will drive change and move women forward.
And don’t forget to enlist men as allies. Working within a diverse network allows for conversation and women to point out gender biases men may not be aware of, which will filter throughout organizations and the media industry.
3. Don't Be Afraid to Push Back
It's almost become commonplace for women to experience harassment in the workplace. While this may be the norm, it does not make it right.
Women must speak up for themselves and their colleagues. When you witness a male colleague or mentor say something inappropriate or put down a female colleague, speak up. Inform human resources and management, and make it clear you do not support this behavior.
Working in the public eye, especially during the #MeToo era, women in the media must lead by example. Women must stand behind their beliefs and the stories they tell before anyone else will.
4. Shift the Story Perspective
Media heavily influences our perceptions and ideas about the roles of girls and women in society. Recent research from Nielson reports that women consume, on average, five more hours of media per week than men. Yet the media continues to fail women with its content and the harmful stereotypes it continues to project.
The media plays a decisive role in how people perceive women and other minorities in society. By creating gender-sensitive content that breaks down stereotypes, choosing to challenge traditional norms and perceptions within content and in-house, and showing women in leadership roles and as experts on diverse topics, the media can transform the perception of women in society.
Challenging social norms and stereotypes provide an opportunity for the media to open a conversation. Rather than dividing, journalism can show us our commonality. Through diverse storytellers and innovative content, journalism can foster dialogue around race, gender, politics, and economics. For a medium with the potential to reach all persons, everyone must have access to information and ideas to make their conclusion.
5. Media Outlets Must Proactively Close the Gender-Gap
For change to have a long-term impact, media outlets must close gender equity gaps, increase female reporting coverage, and gain back public trust.
Media outlets have begun to implement policies and practices to spark change. The BBC’s 50-50 Project is a collective of organizations striving to increase and sustain female media representation. At the same time, Bloomberg’s New Voices aims to build a definitive global database of women newsmakers in business and finance.
While this is a great start, media outlets must continue to build on these initiatives to continue moving in the right direction. Start by establishing industry standards on transparency -- how information is collected, reported, and distributed — and creating new talent strategies to increase the hiring of underrepresented groups.
The first International Women’s Day took place on March 19, 1911, in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. For over a century, women have been celebrating IWD and overcoming oppression and inequality.
In supporting each other, holding colleagues and media houses accountable, and telling stories about women and through the voices of women, women will continue to push forward and #ChooseToChallenge gender stereotypes and societal norms in media.