Despite decades-long efforts from female journalists, broadcasters, writers, editors, and other media professionals, a gap persists in the representation and employment of women across all forms of media. The imbalance is even starker for female media professionals who are otherwise marginalized, like women of color, women with disabilities, and women who identify as part of the LGBTQ community.
The Women’s Media Center, a feminist organization that aims to close the gender and racial gaps in media with pointed research and training, recently released its annual flagship report on women’s media representation, including both the inequalities that haven’t been addressed and the progress that’s been made over the past year.
The 2019 report, “The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2019,” aggregates and analyzes the results of over 94 studies about the current status of women in media. The report identified a number of persistent inequalities in media representation across print and online media, radio and television, film, gaming, and engineering. The report includes original Women’s Media Center research, as well as academic and industry surveys and reports from organizations like newsrooms, media nonprofits, and labor unions.
The original Women’s Media Center research includes “Divided 2019: The Media Gender Gap,” a deep dive into employment statistics at 28 top news outlets. Some of the key findings were that nearly 70% of bylined pieces at top newswires like Reuters and Associated Press are written by men, and that 63% of featured anchors, prime time news broadcasters, and key commentators are male, while only 37% are female. Gender inequalities are most severe at newswires and on prime-time TV evening broadcasts–a significant and sobering fact, given that these are also often the most-read, most-watched news sources for mass audiences. Women are not only reporting the news less often, but their voices are also often heard by smaller audiences than are their male counterparts’.
Another original report by WMC, “The Status of Women of Color in the U.S. News Media 2018,” provides equally harrowing statistics. Women of color make up less than 8% of current U.S. newsroom staffs, and they often occupy less advanced positions in the newsroom hierarchy than both white women and men. In radio, they are even less well-represented, comprising just about 6% of local radio station staff.
Of the grim picture that some of the statistics in the new report paint, WMC president Julie Burton said, “The media is in a state of great disruption, but despite all of the change, one thing remains the same: the role of women is significantly smaller than that of men in every part of news, entertainment and digital media. It is clear that a cultural, systemic shift is necessary if all parts of the U.S media are to achieve gender and racial parity and move toward a world where stories fully represent the voices and perspectives of diverse women. Research spotlighted in this report shows that diversity boosts corporate profits. When boardrooms, newsrooms, studios and tech companies fully reflect the faces, genders and myriad talents of our society, we’re all exceedingly better served.”
Gloria Steinem, co-founder of WMC, agreed, commenting for the same press release, “Missing women of color in the newsrooms of this country is an injustice in itself, and an injustice to every American reader and viewer who is deprived of great stories and a full range of facts. Inclusiveness in the newsroom means inclusiveness in the news. Racism and sexism put blinders on everyone.”
The Women’s Media Center is far from alone in its findings. Last year, an annual report produced by Mount St. Mary’s University noted that under a third of creative positions in primetime TV are commanded by women, with women significantly underrepresented in top behind-the-scenes roles. The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) also reports regularly on the representation of women in political news. On International Women’s Day, they reported that only 1 in 4 quoted news sources are women. Meanwhile, the GMMP reminded readers, things haven’t changed much over the past two decades: Gender inequalities in media have only shifted by a total of seven points in 20 years, and at the current rate, it could take us 80 more years to close that gap.
Clearly, more work needs to be done, not only at the individual level, but at the collective, organizational, corporate, and governmental levels, to achieve full equal representation in media. To that end, the Women’s Media Center sponsors important projects like SheSource in order to speed up the all-too-gradual process of change.
How can feminist philanthropists play a bigger role in helping to level the playing field for women in media? First and foremost, women givers can provide more financial support through grants that benefit women in media at all levels of the field. In addition, women donors can use their visibility to raise up the profile of younger women in media. Supporting media and journalism programs for women also helps build the pipeline of talent for the journalism field.