We need to talk about women: not only about women’s role in the media and their portrayal but also about solutions for gender inequality in the media. This is how Lucy Marcus, opinion columnist and CEO of Marcus Venture Consulting, opened the panel discussion “Women in the media“.
Gabriella Stern, Director of Media and External Relations at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, believes there are two problems to address concerning women in journalism. Firstly, the media coverage of women, and secondly the role of women in media organisations. As for the media coverage, front pages of magazines and newspapers usually prefer men. Journalists still also tend to gravitate towards a man’s point of view when quoting an expert opinion. In the coverage of US electoral campaign, Stern said, the presidential candidate Hillary Clinton seems to be held to a higher standard, though all the candidates are flawed. This poses the question of whether, in the media, we are holding men to the same standards.
Catherine Mayer, co-founder of the UK’s Women’s Equality Party, said that she has seen enormous changes in the journalism industry, such as the rise of digital technology. Still, the persisting issue, she said, is not just about gender diversity in the media, but also about diversity within gender. There are still problems with all-white news rooms and the class divide is palpable. This can easily lead to a distortion in media coverage as people with the same views tend to ascribe the same level of importance to certain stories. She said there needs to be a call for the gender imbalance of media coverage.
Before they start writing, women often feel that they have to be perfect, Marcus believes. Women have to encourage each other to write and to start sharing their ideas through whichever means possible. This also goes along side to a financial issue: according to Stern, one of the most important things for women is not to shy away from asking for a pay rise. If they have bigger responsibility, this should be reflected in their salary.
Men are much less likely than women to be asked about their work-life balance and childcare arrangements, Mayer pointed out. It is also far less common to see men writing about gender issues. In her earlier career, Mayer continued, she tried to steer away from so-called “female” areas of journalism in order not to be pigeonholed, but this in turn had the opposite of the desired effect. She found that she had accidentally upheld the status quo by not addressing issues affecting women. By not talking about the issues, we can never hope to change things.
Marcus agreed that she is often asked about the woman’s perspective on a topic simply because she is a woman. Pigeonholing is a big problem. she said, but there comes a point in your career, where you have to stand out. Perhaps, Marcus stated, that point needs to come a lot earlier now. A woman’s voice is often either not listened to or not taken as seriously. Their appearance in the workplace is also taken to be much more important than that of men’s.
When she was working at The Economist, Mayer said, the editorial meetings were nearly all men who went to Eton College and therefore the range of viewpoints was extremely limited. Her advice to women in the media is to recognise when their voice is ignored and to find a way to make it heard.
Marcus stated that she is unwilling to wait another generation to see more women in boardrooms. Italy has a quota for the number of women in boardrooms. It does not matter how women get into the boardrooms – whether they are there to fill a quota or not: right now the important thing is getting in, she said.
When asked how we can get more men interested in this issue, Stern advised that if men are the ones setting the cultural norms, then they are the ones able to modify them. Therefore, we need to talk to men both in the developed and developing world and keep the conversation going.
There needs to be a holistic approach to achieving gender equality, Mayer concluded, and we need to remind people that gender equality leads to better things for everybody.