Seeking paths to parity

September 5, 2014 05:00

By Max Smith, RTDNA News

Gender equality in the field of journalism made headlines in 2014, and obstacles that keep women from succeeding to the same degree as men continue
to be a hot topic of discussion, as news organizations seek to build diverse workforces.
At Excellence in Journalism 2014, the focus of the panel, “Pushing for Parity: How Women are Faring in Today’s Newsroom,” fell heavily on the behaviors and attitudes of women themselves as obstacles to success.
Panel moderator Barbara Cochran said the session’s topic “came up quite naturally” from the May 14 firing of Executive Editor Jill Abramson from the New York Times. “We want to leave here with a solution-oriented feeling,” added moderator Jill Geisler, one of the first women to become a local television news director in the U.S.
Panelists mentioned hesitation by many women to request raises, a lack of career planning, self-doubt, and social pressure on women to have a pleasant demeanor, which Kara Swisher, Co-CEO of Revere Digital, called “Good Girl Syndrome.” Swisher said that too many women are concerned about seeming nice, which keeps them from being competitive in the job market.

“If [women are] too nice, they’re not competent. If they’re too competent, they’re bitchy,” added Caryl Rivers, a media critic and professor of Journalism at Boston University.

The panel also agreed that a hindrance to workplace parity is that the issue is not framed as a problem for men. “It’s not a women’s issue, and it’s always cast that way,” said Swisher. “Look at this room.” Of the roughly 80 people in attendance, only a handful were men.
Kimberly Wilmot Voss, an associate professor in media law, history, and social media journalism at the University of Central Florida, said that women have an inaccurate view of parity in the modern newsroom. “You go to your classrooms and student newspapers, and they’re almost all women,” said Voss. “All these women who are editors of their student newspaper will never reach that level again.”
“It needs to start with journalism education,” said Voss. “Journalism educators have to talk about this, and talk about it in classrooms.”

RTDNA's own long-running research into women in newsrooms shows that this year, a record percentage of women are leading local television news operations, currently 30.8%. But that number is still below the overall number of women in TV news, at 41.2%. In local radio, 23.1% of news directors are women, 31.1% of local radio staff are women.