Women in journalism and management – some thoughts

I spent much of 2011/12 slogging towards an MA in Journalism Leadership with UCLan – a commitment that, while I cherish the end result and happily wore the Hat of Weirdness on graduation day, isn’t something I’d advise anyone to combine with moving jobs (twice) and home (twice). 

As part of my chosen research, which was on the emerging role of the editor – something I plan to blog about over the next few posts – the subject of mentors kept cropping up. 

It also came up as part of one of the course modules, and it’s quite challenging to find yourself having to think back over a fairly long career and answer questions such as: 

  • Who was your mentor?
  • Did you seek unofficial mentors if you weren’t allocated one?
  • Does your company have a mentor programme?
  • Are you a mentor?
  • If so, how does your role work?

At the time we had the discussion I said that, no, I’d never had an official mentor; however, on reflecting afterwards I remembered there was once a bloke (not a journalist, but a manager) assigned to me as part of a work mentor scheme in Southampton years ago.
I had one email off him and then he left the business. End of story. 

So much for my official mentor experience. I’ve always sought out my own role models anyway, and there have been plenty of editors and deputies who have helped me (or hauled me) up the slippery rungs of management.
However, there have been times in my career path when I really would have appreciated a female executive – role model, mentor, whatever – to discuss things with, and you know what? There wasn’t one. 
I don’t mean there wasn’t one I could talk to, I mean there was no one in a senior management role who could help a young female journo new to management with some friendly encouragement. 
I finally worked with my first female assistant editor when I joined the South Wales Argus, and met the first female newspaper editor of my career when I joined the Liverpool Echo, where we shared an office with the Liverpool Daily Post, then edited by Jane Wolstenholme (now a successful author). 

I’ve worked with plenty of female newsdesk peers who I could throw ideas around with, but senior editorial management was a female desert for a sizable chunk of my career.  
I was reminded of this when someone included my @-name in a tweet to the Reuters ‘Women and Journalism study’ as a female editor, although actually, this study is about the national newspapers. 
Anyway, reading a summary of the study I see the question is raised about the high numbers of aspiring female journalists: “There are all these women coming in – but where do they go?” 
Press Gazette notes:

Franks found that where women have built successful careers in journalism, it tends to be in the lifestyle areas. Meanwhile, politics, news, comment and opinion remain largely the preserve of men. 
“I was surprised by the segregation by genre and subject matter,” Franks said. “All the old stereotypes hold on just as much as they ever did. You think these things are breaking down but this is not the case. It is altogether pretty shocking.”
Women are, however, relatively more prominent in business and finance reporting. Another area where female journalists have found a voice is in war and conflict reporting.

So, obviously, women in journalism is a subject that is relevant to mah interests, as they say, and so I went back to my Diigo bookmarks to see what else I’d squirrelled away., 
There’s this, on the number of women newsroom leaders in college publications, and  this, from the American Journalism Review, entitled Do Women Lead Differently? which is a response (about a response) to an interview with NYT executive editor Jill Abramson, who said gender had nothing to do with how a paper was edited.

Among her points were:
“The idea that women journalists bring a different taste in stories or sensibility isn’t true. I think everybody here recognizes and loves a good story.”
In AJR, there were mixed views from other female editorial executives, including Anna Marie Lipinski, editor of the Chicago Tribune
“I think it’s true we’re all identical in loving a good story, but not all editors will define a good story identically… Do I think gender plays a role in that case? I suspect at times it does. Being a woman gives you access to some experiences in life that men don’t have, just as the reverse is true.”
Anyway, as I’m a) female and b) an editor, I’m interested in the topic.
FWIW I’m in the Abramson camp: People edit differently; you’re influenced by life experiences. Also, I’m definitely NOT the sort of editor who hugs, as cited in AJR. I would be greatly discombobulated to see an editor hug a journo, unless it was at a pub, at said journo’s leaving bash, and alcohol was heavily involved.

Over the past several years as I’ve progressed, the fall-off of women at senior levels of journalism was something I noticed. 
Up to, say, department head level, there are many women managers. But it does thin out as you get past that layer of strata, and it’s not a simple case of subscribing it to their leaving for family reasons, as HBR’s Sarah Green writes in her article on the subject:

…it’s not exactly that there’s a glass ceiling (or a glass cliff, or a maternal wall): the days of blatant discrimination are (mostly) behind us. Today, it’s more like a glass obstacle course of a hundred hard-to-see hurdles.

On the subject of HBR, I’d also recommend the linkfest of research that is Tell Me Something I Don’t Know About Women in the Workplace.

I hadn’t thought of the obstacle course comparison before and from a ‘women as editors’ point of view, I would have said the regionals doing much better than the nationals until recently. From announcements on industry websites, it does seem as though a number of women who edited dailies titles have moved on to other things. 

I know several female executive or deputy editors and news editors, and a few editors of websites or weekly newspapers.
I believe the rapid growth of digital in our newsrooms has enabled many women journalists – I’d put myself among them – to advance their careers in directions that simply didn’t exist seven years ago. 
But I also know that the only Society of Editors conference I ever attended (2010) was particularly memorable – from my point of view, at least – because out of of all the editors and senior editorial types (by which I mean actually producing publications) put up to speak or participate in panel debates, only one was a woman, and she subsequently left the industry. So is this an issue or am I over-thinking it? Are women really not making it to the tops of the mainstream press tree in the numbers they should be? This post has some of my thoughts on the matter – I’d love to hear yours.

* Loise and Clarke illustration by Webcomicfan 

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