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Keeping two eyes on the Global Report on Status of Women in News

cbyerlys Icon Posted by Carolyn Byerly

July 12th, 2011

The trick for feminists has long been to keep one eye keenly fixed on the deeper problems afflicting us while letting the other eye see signs of progress. The prickly but familiar dialectical relationship of progress and recalcitrance have left many of us cross-eyed through the years.

So it is again with the findings in the Global Report on the Status of Women in News Media that was published earlier this spring by the project’s sponsor International Women’s Media Foundation. The research findings, which spanned 522 news companies in 59 nations, found three main patterns in women’s journalism employment. Looking at national trends, the study found under-representation by women in the profession to be the dominant trend in nearly half (44%) of the nations included in the study. The second most common pattern in women’s employment in news was the familiar glass ceiling effect, with about a third (34%) of the nations demonstrating this trend. Not insignificant, however, is the approximate fourth (22%) of the nations with companies that showed women at relative parity with men .

As the principal investigator (researcher) for that study, I believe we need to look closely at the last of these before we dismiss it. Nations with companies demonstrating evidence of relative parity in newsroom hierarchies between men and women were found in all regions of the world except Western Europe, where glass ceiling trends dominated across the board. Most notable were the four nations (out of 8 nations included) in Eastern Europe in which women were either at parity or even surpassed men in their newsroom status.

In Bulgaria, for example, women hold more than a third (39.3%) of the positions in governance, more than half (53.5%) of those in top-level management, about half (45%) of those in senior management, and nearly two-thirds (73.7%) of those in middle management positions. The figures are similar at other news occupations in this nation. The report contains explanations for findings that provide the insights of the local researchers in the nations included. Dr. Diana Nastasia, who oversaw the collection of data in the eight nations of Eastern Europe, did a good job of bringing historical and legal factors into the picture to help explain our findings there.

In Uganda, women occupy about half of both governance and top-management positions (48.4% and 50%, respectively), nearly half (44.7%) in senior management, and more than 40% in most of the other major journalism roles of the eight companies we surveyed in that nation. Uganda is a nation where women (and men) are sharply divided by social class. While only 58% of women are literate, national gender equity laws govern the paid work sector, and, as a result, the nation ranks 8th in wage equality.

In order for feminists to see our way forward in media activism, we need to always look for the oddities that suggest a new strategy or at least a way of understanding something that seems inexplicable. If anything, the findings from the Global Report suggest the need for new research that explores opacities in our findings, such as how women managed to advance in the news profession within strongly patriarchal societies.

The Global Report was released in March 2011 at IWMF’s 20th anniversary, celebrated in a two-day international conference at George Washington University. I was commissioned by IWMF in 2009 to design and conduct the study, which would take two years, 150 researchers and three statisticians to complete. The data collection featured face-to-face interviews with media executives at companies included in the study, with findings representing the first data base of its kind in the world (to my knowledge). I am now working on an academic text that will place the technical information from the report in a theoretical framework of analysis. Watch this blog space for details in months to come!

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