Women still missing from the top table in media – fixing this could change your prospects

New research by WAN-IFRA adds to the growing body of work that confirms the extent to which women continue to be excluded from the highest rankings of power in media companies. To retain legitimacy, public trust and revenue, this needs to change urgently, argues Melanie Walker, WAN-IFRA’s Media Development Executive Director and Gender Lead, who offers concrete actions to encourage inclusion.

by Melanie Walker 

Year after year, studies are produced showing that companies with greater diversity at senior leadership levels outperform those without. McKinsey research has also shown that diverse and inclusive companies are a major priority for the new wave of talent that is entering the workforce – and will dominate – in another 10 years.

This is equally true for the news media, particularly as we orient ourselves almost entirely to anticipate and respond to the needs and interests of our audience. It is clear that audiences want to see themselves reflected in their trusted news sources.

We know this, yet, two new research reports confirm women are still largely excluded from the most senior business and editorial positions in the news media industry.

study released this week by Luba Kassova co-founder of Addy Kassova Audience Strategy (AKAS), which analyses gender and race in major news media within the UK, US, India, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, shows that women are missing along the value chain of the news ecosystem, from leadership through to expert sources in these six major media markets. It also provides a series of recommendations and arguably the most compelling macro argument I have seen as to the business case for gender diversity, presented by Kassova’s business partner Richard Addy.

Increasing news consumption by women could increase revenues – Richard Addy, AKAS

Add to Kasova and Addy’s report the results from leadership mapping by WAN-IFRA Women in News (WIN) of 192 major news media companies in 17 countries throughout Africa, Asia and the Arab regions, and these trends are brought into sharp focus. Women only make up 10% of top business roles (publisher or CEO) and just over 30% of the top editorial positions (editor in chief or executive editor). 

Drilling down on the WIN results by region, on the editorial front, an average of one in five of the most senior editorial positions is filled by a woman in the Arab region. This is against a slightly better average in Africa and Southeast Asia, where women hold one in three senior editorial positions.

These WIN leadership mapping findings are largely consistent with research released earlier this year by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, which found women held on average 20% of the top editorial positions of the more than 250 media surveyed. 

The combined results  paint a damning picture overall: women continue to be excluded from the highest rankings of power and editorial decision making within global media. 

In order to actively and urgently begin to shift these figures, news media need to be thinking proactively around their succession planning, and whether they have prioritised diversity and inclusion as an entrenched part of their organisational, business, and content strategies.

Setting concrete annual targets, and revisiting them regularly, is one way to hold the organisation as a whole accountable. So too is having clearly worded policies around diversity and inclusion, in particular when it comes to editorial guidelines and style books. Equally important is a more comprehensive understanding of diversity and inclusion as a whole. Do your top managers and newsroom staff have a robust appreciation of diversity categories, of which gender, albeit the largest, is but one? What methods are in place in order to identify, attract and retain diverse candidates? 

Here are six concrete actions to take immediately to ensure your organisation’s policy and practices encourage diversity and inclusion. 

  1. Conduct a diversity audit: Establish the breakdown of your staff – and management team – by gender and other relevant diversity categories. This also means including visible, religious, ethnic minorities or under-represented groups as well by ability. This will be unique to your country and context. While this is just a starting point, it will allow a baseline from which to work.
  2. Organise gender equality, diversity and inclusion training for your management team: there are plenty of low cost or even free training modules available including this excellent resource. WAN-IFRA Women in News can also provide support in this area, with a specialisation of working with media organisations. 
  3. Ensure health benefits, pensions or stock options are available equally. Whatever you make available to your employees, ensure they are also available for any type of family situation or partnership. This can be particularly powerful in more restrictive environments as it sends a clear message to LGBTQI+ employees that you recognise and support them, irrespective of national legislation. Offer the possibility of parental leave irrespective of gender, and while you are at it, review the language of these policies to ensure they are gender inclusive.
  4. Make compensation and employment opportunities equitable. Review your pay scales to ensure that all employees of similar experience and skills are compensated at the same rate. On average, women are paid 20% less than men. This gap widens when other diversity categories are brought into the equation. Consider a continuation of flexible office and work hours that were brought on by the global pandemic. Allowing employees additional accommodation to respond to family needs will help with retention of all employees with family commitments. This is particularly relevant when childcare options are cost-prohibitive or lacking as they are in many contexts.
  5. Identify high-potential employees of various diversity categories and include them in your succession planning; speak to them directly about what they feel are barriers to their progression and what you can do as an organisation to be more inclusive. Avoid the temptation to rely on these individuals to lead any DEI initiatives, however, as this will inadvertently put more workload on these groups. Instead, identify other champions in the organisation, or engage in external support to lead these initiatives.
  6. Be explicit and public in your commitment to gender equality, diversity and inclusion and what that means for your media organisation. More than 60 CEOs, managing editors and directors added their names publicly to the equality pledge At our World News Media Congress in Zaragoza in September 2022. Add your name here.

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