Sex discrimination commissioner calls for editors to commit to 30% target of female faces on their business pages

Sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick has called on Australia’s business newspapers to commit to a target of featuring a minimum of 30 per cent of women’s voices on their pages by 2015.

The call from Broderick came during a debate on representation of women in business media organised in Melbourne by ANZ bank’s brand journalism arm Blue Notes.

notable women logo anzANZ this week launched its Notable Women project designed to groom the organisation’s female leaders and others in the business community to take a higher profile in the media. ANZ boss Mike Smith is among the business bosses who have pledged to decline invitations to speak at conferences and events unless women are among the speakers.

The launch saw a debate asking the question: Who is more to blame for the lack of women in business media – men or women?”

Business woman Carol Schwartz, who founded the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia, said Australia’s papers are dominated by male editors, mentioning by name Michael Stutchbury of the Australian Financial Review, Chris Mitchell of The Australian and Andrew Holden of The Age.

  • Today’s business section of The Australian features photographs of two women and 21 men – a representation of nine per cent.
  • Today’s business section of The AFR features nine women and 55 men – a representation of  14 per cent
  • Today’s Business Day section of the print edition of The Age features two women and ten men – a 17 per cent representation.

Schwartz added: “TV and radio CEOs are all men.” (Mumbrella notes that an exception is Nova Entertainment boss Cathy O’Connor.)

Schwartz said: “The men are all happy with the status quo. As Jane Fonda said, they just don’t believe there’s a problem. We’re so used to seeing male journalists interviewing male business people, we don’t see there’s a problem.

“The proprietors and owners of these various media channels are not at all concerned about the lack of diversity. If they were, it would change quick-smart.

The AFR’s writer Michael Smith argued during the debate: “We want more women in the AFR, we want more women speaking at our events. I’m just as sick as you are of seeing middle aged men in suits on the pages.

“We just want smart voices. But can we find any? This is the frustrating bit. Part of the problem seems to be women are more modest and probably a little saner than us blokes who have all got huge egos.

“We want them their on merit – not as a token gesture.”

Broderick argued: “Men control the business media. Take corporate spokespeople. Three per cent of women are corporate spokespeople. Who decides who is a corporate spokesperson? That’s male CEOs.

“What good will women leaning in do, if men don’t start to lean out?”

ANZ’s Amanda Gome, a former business journalist and publisher for Fairfax and Private Media, said women in business needed to understand that having a profile was part of leadership. She said: “When the opportunities are offered, you have to take them. You can’t change the game if you don’t show up.”

In a narrow vote, the room narrowly supported the side of the debate that men were most to blame for the situation.

Broderick said of the 30 per cent quota: “When you apply a target, you allow women to come through.

“If you don’t fix everyday sexism, we won’t see women who can speak to the AFR and build their careers.”

And Schwartz warned that social media attacks put some women off from putting their heads above the parapet. She said: “Social media is quite a dangerous space. A number of women journalists say they feel threatened by the trolling  they get when they make comments.”

The Australian’s business writer Damon Kitney was among the audience. He told the debate: “It’s a very difficult thing to get high quality women to step up and talk to the newspapers.”

Asked about Broderick’s 30 per cent proposal, the AFR’s Smith said: “It’s a good idea. I’m not the editor, I don’t have the power, but I will pass it on.”

Holden, The Age’s editor-in-chief, said in a short statement: “We report the news and always seek to find the most appropriate sources to quote in our stories.” Stutchbury declined Mumbrella’s invitation to comment, and Mitchell had not responded at the time of posting.

Tim Burrowes


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