What ways are women held back? Reuters Institute / Suzanne Franks

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Female journalism students substantially outnumber men. I notice that every time I stand before a class at City University. And the same is true not just in the UK but across the world from the US to Romania to Australia. But the problem is what happens then? Out in the real world, as most of us know very well, the reverse is true.  Why is it that those young women studying journalism do not continue to flourish in later years when they enter the workplace?  And the higher up you look, the fewer women in newsrooms or running media organisations and also the wider is the gender pay gap. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in Oxford commissioned me to investigate  in what ways women continue to be held  back. With the help of my students I didsome quantitative analysis counting bylines, assembling data of who does what across the landscape of contemporary journalism. One example of this was counting the witnesses to the Leveson Enquiry; when over 200 of the great and the good of contemporary journalism lined up to give evidence in 2012,there was a ratio of 6:1 in favour of men.

 Working on this report, which has now been published as a short book, was also an opportunity to interview a wide range of women involved in all kinds of journalism (print, broadcast, online, freelance, employed) and at all levels – including many WIJ members. Several of them, including Hilly Janes, Sue Ellicott and Claire McDonald were extremely helpful and are all quoted in the book. I also managed to speak to a number of journalists in other countries to try and compare their experiences with the UK . Most of the interviewees talked on the record but a number (including from WIJ) preferred to speak unattributably and told some shocking tales (especially in tabloid newsrooms) of ongoing hostility faced by female reporters.

It was a fascinating piece of research and here are some of the highlights and  conclusions from my Women and Journalism Reuters Institute Report–which include quite a few surprises.

  •  There is no point saying that this current wave of students will  ‘work its way through the system’, because women were already outnumbering men at Journalism Schools in the US fifty years ago.
  •  In the early years of a journalism career women do rather well. They get jobs more easily than men and they earn a little more, so for once there is a ‘reverse’ gender pay gap, but it does not last for long.
  •  Female journalists across the board are less likely to have a family than their male counterparts.
  •  Our surveys showed there is still a divide between who does what in journalism. Areas such as politics, sport and opinion writing continue to have a huge gender imbalance. In sports journalism less than 5% of the bylines are by women. In politics the number of lobby journalists mirrors the numbers of  female MPs at just over a fifth and there are no female political editors  working for the daily press or the main broadcasting outlets or websites.
  •  There is such a dearth of women in opinion columns that in the US they have set up an organization called the Op-Ed Project to campaign for more women comment pieces. The commissioners both in the UK and the US say that women seem reluctant to come forward – there was a ratio of 9:1 in those offering themselves to write comment pieces. And even when approached because of their particular expertise women often claimed that they ‘did not know enough’ to write an opinion piece, whereas many of the male opinion pieces were ‘dinner party op –eds’ written because someone had a view rather than a special expertise.
  •   The move online has not been a panacea for women, but rather more mixed. Many of the big online operations which are highly demanding and require anti-social shifts are little different from the traditional media.
  •  And online has its own problems such as the epidemic of anonymous abuse from below the line comments and social media. It was staggering to discover much of a  problem that is for women journalists when they write about anything beyond the most anodyne topics. I discovered   a syndrome of ‘online disinhibition’ which affects women journalists across the range from famous CNN TV anchors to young bloggers.
  •  Women are not doing badly at all  in the well-regulated Nordic countries, which is to be expected. But they are also at the higher echelons of journalism in the former Eastern block countries. In Bulgaria there are many women running media organisations and in Russia 80% of journalists are women. Yet upon closer inspection the reason is probably that the status of journalists (and their pay) is considerably lower in Eastern Europe.

  Professor Suzanne Franks

Department of Journalism

City University