On International Women’s Day, it is easy for us to want to simply inspire women, educate men and move on, happy with crumbs of feel-good change. It is tempting to look at the men around the newsrooms outnumbering us in senior positions and put our lack of progress at their feet. Thinking men need to change, and we will have to wait for their benevolence. It’s not an entirely wrong narrative; the male-dominated culture has held us back and still exists in many invisible ways. However, I also believe we under-estimate our power if we don’t discuss or tackle the lack of sisterhood in some newsrooms and the wider industry. When we talk about breaking the bias, we also need to use our collective power to ensure more women reach the top of our profession. We need to be honest and say that sometimes women hold gender, racial, or even ageist biases and hold other women back. This needs to stop for us to see quicker change.
Women are around 50 per cent of the population; in newsrooms generally, we are 45 per cent, but in senior leadership, in journalism, women make up 29 per cent of that group. So it does matter how far we’ve come, but we are a way off from patting our backs and saying job done.
The glass ceiling narrative says that once it’s shattered, everyone can come through. Sounds ideal, except that hasn’t happened. If you look like me, it is even less likely to happen. We are not talking about lack of skills and expertise; we know many women work harder and learn more because you need to be better to even be in the room. It’s a lack of opportunities and a perception that we always need to be more confident or need more training; maybe try being a bit softer? Too much and too little all at the same time. I’m guilty of joining in this narrative at times, so I hold my hands up. Women also seem to hold other women to a higher behavioural standard than men, effectively co-signing the lack of progression.
I write not to shame but to say we can be a strong sisterhood that could force change, but we have to start by changing our actions. I have had more women bosses than men, yet most of my career sponsors have been white men, not women. One Lisa Parkins-Snell was a woman manager who bucked that trend and gave me several opportunities and was one of the fairest managers I ever had, man or woman. She ran mixed teams and offered all the opportunities to step up. We need more of this.
What would it look like if every single woman in a newsroom who was in a senior position of mid-level and up committed to doubling women’s numbers at their level where it’s in their power, and they have the influence to do so?
Too many women walk away from mid-level management bruised not just from above but also from the teams they are trying to lead. Men and women not respecting the authority that comes with the role. What could we achieve if those being managed by women gave them the same automatic respect we often give to men’s credibility and authority? No questions asked or proof required?
The narrative of scarcity can often make us feel that our opportunities will be fewer if there are more women. That our light won’t be seen if there are more of us. Yet men show us there is strength in numbers! Some women seem to enjoy being ‘the only one in the room’. We need to ensure we think about us, rather than I; no one is in a job forever. Don’t close the doors behind you.
As women in journalism, we need to ensure that we break our biases and not just help the women like us because it’s easy, and we ‘get’ them. But, we also do the hard thing and make sure that we’re supporting other women who aren’t like us, who we don’t understand, but who have the potential to do a great job—making some radical hires, not just identikits of what we already have. Yes, building a diverse team that thrives is way more complex; we have to be honest about that. But, it’s also way more rewarding with a richer tapestry of storytelling that brings bigger audiences and greater attention to a broader range of stories.
It’s a privilege to be a journalist, hold people’s stories, and share them with others. Our industry should look like the nation we serve. Our newsrooms – that tell the nation’s story and hold power to account – need to have representative demographics right up to the senior levels. Our story needs to be one that we are all proud of, giving us the right to hold others to account.
Questions we can ask ourselves this International Women’s Day
– What are my biases?
– Where am I not helping women where I could be?
– When could I step in to support another woman having a tough time?
– How can I be more open to supporting women who are not like me and ensure they get their fair share too?
This piece only scratches the surface of a complex issue. I believe that women can be accelerators for change and many women are already doing great work to progress us, we all need to join in for maximum effectiveness. We cannot ask others what we are unwilling to do ourselves, and there are enough of us in influential positions to ensure that more women are in top leadership positions. We don’t need to only wait for the kindness of men. Let’s rewrite what sisterhood means in this industry and break the bias will become more than a 2022 headline.