Getting Even

Men and women should get mad. And then get even — as in even pay, opportunity and success.

There’s lots of evidence that gender disparities in news organizations persist, especially in leadership positions. If you have any doubt, read the 2017 report from the Women’s Media Center that details wide — and maddening — gaps across media, including print, broadcast, Internet and wires; men receive 62 percent of bylines or other credit compared with 38 percent for women. VIDA Count, which tracks gender disparities in publishing, also reveals persistent, but narrowing, gaps between men and women. Only a handful of women lead our major journalism institutions, including just three women at the helm of the top 25 U.S. major dailies, compared with seven in 2004.

There’s some data about why the gender gap persists. Alas, the same old barriers to advancement come up again and again when women are interviewed on this topic: overt sexism, unconscious bias, few role models, limited opportunities, disparities in pay, and lack of workplace flexibility. It seems that every woman has a story about bumping up against one or more of these roadblocks. And those stories are usually told with a big dose of frustration, exasperation and anger.

But there is not enough shared wisdom about what to do about it so we can move the needle and work toward equity in compensation, positions and advancement. Part of my research this year as a JSK Journalism Fellow at Stanford University is to to delve into some of the reasons for the disparities between men and women in journalism and to show examples of women succeeding in leadership roles. (Share your stories with me to be part of this research by taking a short survey.)

I will be writing more about my findings as I continue to study recent research and my fellowship comes to a close this summer. But I have already learned a lot from my own experience working in journalism for 30 years (as a newspaper and wire service reporter and editor, an overseas correspondent and a department manager), from friends and colleagues in journalism around the country, and from being both a mentor and a mentee.

Here are three ways you as an individual can help fix this problem:

~ Build networks. Exceptional Women in Publishing, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary with a conference in Berkeley, Calif., and Journalism and Women Symposium, which holds an annual conference and has a robust Listserv for networking, advice and job openings, are two excellent places to start. These groups help train, mentor and empower women to succeed as writers, reporters, editors, authors, producers, photographers, developers and so on. Learning skills to lead, negotiate and manage up really matter.

~ Pump up the volume. Share your work on social media. Update your LinkedIn profile. Seek recognition by telling your boss and her boss about your successes and your ambitions. If you are a manager, make a point of publicly praising the work of others, especially younger women on staff who might need a confidence boost. Go after those training opportunities and fellowships like the JSK program at Stanford, where women usually make up half or more of each fellowship class. “We encourage women journalists and journalism innovators to apply for our program. It’s been a launch pad for many emerging leaders into positions of influence or to get the skills — and confidence — to start their own venture,” says Director Dawn Garcia. It’s worth noting that the Nieman Fellowships at Harvard University and the Knight-Wallace Fellowships at University of Michigan are also led by women.

~ Raise your profile. That means volunteering for ambitious projects and big assignments even before you feel ready, and speaking at conferences and other places where you get seen and heard. GenderAvenger does a good job of shaming organizers of all-male panels but women need to say yes when asked to participate. Also, it appears that more men than women in journalism have Wikipedia pages, prompted perhaps because Wikipedia editors skew heavily male. (Even Wikipedia has a lengthy article about its own gender bias.) I’m starting a project to correct that imbalance so if you are interested in helping with this, let me know.

Of course, we have systemic problems, too, and change will require industry leadership. Here are three priorities:

~ Hire and promote more women. Sounds simple, but it is not happening beyond the entry-level jobs and employers need to be called out for not going beyond lip service to gender equity. Plenty of current research shows that businesses with more women in charge are more profitable but it takes more than a token hire to shift the power balance. Agitating to get enlightened people into positions to make those hires is key.

~ Even out salaries for women and men. Nothing stings more than finding out that an equally qualified man or even a subordinate is making more money. Previous pay levels and aggressive negotiating for salary when hired for the job shouldn’t automatically lead to uneven rates of pay in an organization. Transparency about pay within companies and more broadly in the industry would help. And as individuals, we should buck the culture of secrecy and just ask each other what we make and use that information as leverage for parity.

~ Create more flexibility in schedules, job descriptions and workplaces. Allowing women — and men — to more easily tend to family needs in addition to their work would improve job satisfaction and retention. Setting unrealistic work expectations at the expense of family, health and other parts of life creates burnout that leads many women to opt out of newsroom careers.

In cases where that tradition is too hard to break or the barriers are too hard to overcome, quite a few women are striking out on their own to found and lead their own shops with support and inspiration from groups like Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION), where more than half the members are women, and the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN). Clearly there is demand: the J-Lab’s New Media Women Entrepreneurs initiative received 2,011 proposals for 22 grants over six years, for example.

If you have ideas to help change the status quo, strategies for getting better pay and promotions, or examples of women journalists who have found ways in newsrooms or on their own to make it all work, let me know or take this short survey. We should all be mad about the disparities that persist. And we should all get even.


  • Illustrations by Adriana Garcia