Opinion

The sad truth about women in media on the eve of International Women’s Day

Claire Waddington

On the eve of International Women’s Day, Isentia’s Claire Waddington fears the gender imbalance of women in media jobs is also locking the voice of women out of stories in everything from business to sport.

A study released yesterday by Women in Media, a national mentoring and networking initiative run by women from across the media spectrum, backed by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) and Isentia, has uncovered a startling inequity.

The responses were collected via a national online survey of around 1,000 women in media at the end of 2015, as well as in-depth analysis of media activity in 2015 in Australia.

The overarching theme revealed, frankly: discrimination remains rife in the industry.

As this year’s International Women’s Day campaign #pledgeforparity asks for a worldwide boost for women in the workforce, the study clearly shows the gender imbalance issue in media runs far deeper than newsroom quotas and pay-gaps.

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As a member of the industry, I find it more than concerning that the general sentiment of my female colleagues is an industry trend toward ‘mates over merit’.

Sentiment is one thing but the reality is reflected harshly in numbers. Yes, newsroom quotas are far from parity. The pay-gap is still shockingly wide. However, what concerns me the most is gender bias in reporting.

Why, in 2016, is it possible for newsroom ratios to still be 70:30 male-to-female reporters, and the press coverage of sport, finance and politics to still be so male-centric?

Don’t believe me? In analysing the bylines of 9,597 radio, television and press articles, at iSentia we found that more than 70% of finance stories came from male reporters.

It could be fair to suggest that good news reporting is subjective, and that gender should not hinder reporting of factual information. My question is, why then were eight in every 10 spokespeople quoted in these articles male?

It is even more apparent in sport. As role models like Michelle Payne, Stephanie Gilmore and Cathy Freeman have cast much-needed light on Australian women in sport, females accounted for only 7.6% of sources quoted in sports news.

Could it be that the 90% of sports stories filed by males failed to call on females for their opinion?

Again, there is truth in the numbers. Looking broadly at the news, across any category, male reporters were shown to include female spokespeople in their reporting in just 17.4% of cases. When a female reporter was assigned, the percentage of female experts quoted climbed to 31.5%.

Unquestionably, the lack of women in newsrooms is an unfortunate waste of  expertise and investment. But gender imbalance in mainstream reporting is an  issue that concerns the majority, because it’s the majority that benefit from diversity in opinion.

Overall, progress on equality in the media is disappointingly slow. It’s clear that structural discrimination – and entrenched workplace cultures – keep women in lower paid, less powerful positions.

As an industry, we need to support groups like Women in Media in its quest for audits and action on the entrenched gender pay-gap, which research from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency reveals a 23.3% gap in Information, Media and Telecommunications.

Anti­-discrimination policies need to be put not just into place but into practice. Not just for the women in media, but also for the majority of people relying on the 24­-hour news cycle for a fair representation of what is happening in the  world.

  • Claire Waddington is marketing communications director with media intelligence company Isentia.
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