Commentary

Newsrooms Need To Fight For Gender Equality

Of all the stories published during the celebration of International Women's Day, this one stood out: The New York Times' review of its own gender record on obituaries.

As dismal as it was going back to the 1800s, the shocking statistic was that in the last two years, women accounted for just over one in five of the paper’s obit subjects. 

That reinforced how much work we have to do.

Data like this underscores the continuing predicament of women in the media: the fundamental lack of gender balance in who decides what stories we tell and how we tell them. It is easy to get depressed looking at the statistics, even though we have made some progress.

Women in 2017 accounted for about 39% of the workforce in U.S. newsrooms and at top leadership levels, a percentage that changed little from the previous year, according to the American Society of News Editors census of more than 1,000 newspapers and online sites.

At 25% of the organizations, not a single woman was in one of the top three leadership positions. 

These numbers give only part of the picture — media organizations also need to look at diversity, in all its forms, at a more micro level: Who is reporting and writing the stories, who is editing and shaping the work, who is being quoted as sources or brought on TV as guests or placed on panels at events.

As we review the actual state of our own companies, we need to set clear targets and hold managers accountable to meet them, given that these imbalances are directly connected to how we recruit and hire. They impact how we set and adjust salaries, how we treat and value people, how we respond to bias and discrimination.

Most importantly, they determine how we make an authentic commitment to getting this right.

After working as a professional journalist for more than three decades, there is little that surprises me about the state of women in media today. But being a female newsroom leader comes with a responsibility to push for change with more urgency and intention, to identify the men and women who are ready to help advocate for and foster a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

We also need to be supportive of less-experienced women trying to forge their own path.

Whether it stems from #MeToo, the growing publicity around gender pay gaps, or just a bubbling anger over slow progress,many in the news business are saying they’ve had enough - enough of the stuckness, enough of the inertia, enough of the silence.

If this new momentum and a growing awareness allow media organizations to start telling the stories that we've never told before, there’s a real chance we can start making meaningful change.

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