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Panel Shares Best Practices to Get More Women in Media

mspencers Icon Posted by Miranda Spencer

August 17th, 2011

Reading Carolyn Byerly’s recent post, “Keeping two eyes on the Global Report on Status of Women in News,” reminded me to post — way belatedly — my live blog of the IWMF plenary panel last March on news-organization best practices around the world. I was privileged to attended the IWMF conference as a volunteer, and the organization has given me permission to post it in full. (A shorter version was up at the site but is no longer available, to my knowledge.)

What stood out for me was that, according to the panel participants, affirmative action — even quotas — have proven very effective in bringing women into influential positions in journalism, where they go on to prove themselves in spades. Will we ever see that here in the U.S.? I doubt it — sadly, it just ain’t the American way.

Please read on (it’s crazy long, but fascinating stuff):

Following are highlights of the IWMF conference panel discussion, led by BBC’s Katty Kay, on journalistic best practices– not only in developing women’s leadership, but also in bringing women’s experiences to the fore as story topics and women’s voices alive as story sources.

Kay led off by asking IWMF’s Global Report on Women in the News Media lead investigator and author Carolyn Byerly about some of the biggest challenges of compiling and analyzing the study data. Byerly replied that in some countries, it was very difficult to obtain interviews with news executives and other journalists – not, as some might expect, in more repressive regimes but rather in the most developed countries! She also pointed to the difficulty of gathering information in a uniform manner, considering how different organizations and job titles are across the globe.

Kay then asked her what surprised her the most about the results. For her, three things stood out:

The first was how certain regions stood “head and shoulders above others” in terms of opportunities for women journalists– specifically, several Eastern European countries in the former Soviet bloc, where the situation has only improved with the advent of democracy in the region.

The second was the relationship between national laws and the status of women in our field. The more gender equality is codified in law, the better women fare. In Uganda, for example, the constitution requires that its elected parliament be composed of at least 20% women, and women are also leaders in the news media.

The third was how a country’s culture enters into women’s job roles. She noted, “Educated women have advanced in certain occupations. But journalism hasn’t always been first occupation that educated women have chosen.” Thus, they may be underrepresented in the field.
Various companies globally had good track records. What we need to do, said Byerly, is “spotlight [the best] models and take lessons from them.”

Another key question Kay asked was why it’s important to have women not just as reporters but in senior leadership positions in media companies.

“Journalism is about choices, and if there are no women [in the field], that acts as a [news] filter,” she replied. “The newsroom needs different perspectives on news of the day. But its’s also good business to better reflect and serve” our audiences. “Those people need to be at the table, or we won’t connect to [them].”

Ines Pohl of Germany answered that how we look at topics, and “which questions we ask,” can benefit from a female point of view, noting later that “Who reports matters, because [women] can see new angles” to a story that men might not see. She said diversity in general benefits a news organization. “It changes how we deal with each other, and how we do journalism.”

Kjersti Sortlund of Norway noted that her paper is close to gender balance and that 49% of its readers are women. Quite simply, “Women journalists reflect our readers’ concerns.”

Looking more broadly, Barbara Kaija of Uganda asserted that in the developing world, gender equality in the newsroom is “only sensible; otherwise, how can we educate [a changing] society?” News that reflects women’s voices and needs helps to set the national agenda.

Silvia Miro Quesada of Peru (where women didn’t achieve the vote till 1956!) observed that the specific skills women have developed since time immemorial are an asset, especially in this new-media environment: “New ways to connect make women have a great advantage over men because of our communication skills and our social intelligence,” which we can use that to “jump into history.”

A great deal of the discussion revolved around how to actually achieve gender parity and women’s leadership in the newsroom. The two women from Europe pointed out that mandates for gender parity play an important role in advancing women. In Germany, those mandates include “strict” quotas. Such mandates create change not just because it’s required but because it forces both male and female employees to think about including women’s issues as story topics; assigning women to unconventional and even dangerous beats; and ensuring that women are regularly used as sources and pictured in photographs.

As an applause-generating example, Jennifer McGuire noted that Canada’s CBC has hiring equity practices in place. However, she said, “Good intentions not enough. [If you] ask people if they value diversity they’ll say yes, but when you do content analysis it doesn’t actually happen.” To get results, companies need to “declare a goal and then measure it and hold people accountable.”

Sortlund observed that it is vital for management to get involved in enforcing the drive for equity. In 1992, her organization made a formal agreement with the reporters’ union to achieve gender parity – AND created a policy on how to get there. “If I [tell an underling] ‘I won’t measure you on the number of scandals [you break] or front-page stories, but on finding good female reporters,’ then he will do it!”
Pohl told of the policy at her paper, which requires at least one woman on the front page of each issue – “and not just movie stars!” It’s not always easy, so the editor makes a point to ask reporters for story ideas involving women.

Special policies are only one way to push women forward, however. Miro Quesada claimed that at her organization, promotions are based on merit. Everyone is highly skilled, and women rise organically because of that. McGuire echoed her, saying that investing in women “Is not about giving people who aren’t qualified a job.”

But simply giving women opportunities isn’t the end of the story, the panel agreed. Making the workplace female-friendly, from having progressive policies that allow for work/family balance to instituting mentoring, skills-training, and leadership development programs, is also part of the equation. Moreover, they said, we need to encourage women to overcome their own self-limiting perceptions.

McGuire told of two women political reporters at the CBC, both of whom were forced to choose between returning to work full time after having children or leaving the organization. (The two had come up with an innovative job-sharing plan, which management rejected.) ”We don’t’ want to lose women who have families,” she said. Byerly pointed out that European nations have more generous parental leave laws and government-funded childcare that free woman to HAVE careers. Global news organizations need to consider such things if we’re to be serious about gender equity.

Later, Kaija explained that Uganda’s maternity-leave policy has become more generous in recent years, but it only happened because there were women in top management pulling for it. Even then, “We had to keep fighting for it.”

Kay then asked the group about pushback against, and obstacles to, gender equity efforts at media companies. McGuire noted that when CBS’s Lara Logan was sexually assaulted while reporting on the uprisings in Egypt, the public discussion centered on whether it was wise to send women into danger zones. “It’s absurd,” she stated, pointing out that the CBC routinely sends female camera operators to violent areas.
Miro Quesada noted the special challenges of sending women into conflict areas in Peru, recalling that some 20 years ago a reporter working in country was assassinated by rebels from the group Shining Path. One of the lessons learned was to prepare female reporters to adapt to expectations about women while on assignment; for example, one stringer in the Cuzco region found she had to communicate differently – even with cab drivers – to get her story, and was warned to prepare to defend herself because “you can be raped at any moment.” But, Miro Quesada added, women are still more than willing to go on such assignments.

She also stated that it’s more important to find and publish good stories that involve women than to have one on the front page every day. To that end, she recommended developing a database of women experts to use as sources.

Moving back to the topic of how to nurture female journalists within an organization, the panelists echoed something Pohl had said earlier: “Women leaders need to be visible. Young women will then feel free to come forward.” Sundland recalled how when she began her career 20 years ago, the ratio of female to male reporters was about 30/70, which didn’t make for a comfortable workplace. Imbalances “really affect how we work together and the quality of work life.” So her organization held seminars that allowed women journalist to network among women leaders in the field, which has helped bring the balance closer to even.

More important, she said, the addition of women has improved the quality of journalism. She recalled how historically, Norwegian press coverage of scores of women murdered by their husbands tended to take a “family tragedy” angle. A woman-initiated project took a different tack, profiling all of the victims, which gave real faces to the grim statistics portrayed in conventional murder stories.

Kaija maintained that women reporters who cover issues of concern to women in interesting ways offer news organizations the benefit of engaging both female and male audiences. Framing matters too, the panel noted – there’s an important difference between a headline blaring “Man Dies in Accident” and one reading “Father of Two Dies in Accident.”

Kay then inquired about the challenges unique to women entering journalism, and how to deal with it. Miro Quesada recalled that, as one of the first female editors at her outlet, she learned the ropes from the men, but also saw how women can adapt them to their own reporting styles. One female investigative reporter told her that the guys warned that if she wanted to cultivate sources, she’d have to take them out for drinks at night. The reporter didn’t feel comfortable doing that, but found different ways to pursue these vital relationships. In the process, she “made [these methods] more professional, without having to use the macho manner.”

Sometimes, said Kaija, women simply lack certain skills that role models could help them develop. She pointing out that “ladies in Uganda have covered the Congolese war and the Rwandan genocide,” yet possess few investigative skills. The reason: They have role models for conflict reporting, but none for enterprise reporting.

To remedy any skills imbalances, the panel recommended that, in a world where women are two-thirds of journalism students, female faculty mentor them. They also urged women in the newsroom to “encourage women to do jobs they aren’t sure of themselves on,” as Pohl put it. Indeed, confidence is a big barrier to moving ahead in the field, the panel agreed. As Kay said, “A man looks in the mirror and sees a future senator; a woman waits to be asked to run!” Recognizing this, we need to proactively seek out talent in our newsrooms and develop it.

The discussion closed with the panelists offering key messages for audience members to take back to their workplaces, which centered on the need for:
• Proactive leadership within a news organization, starting at the top
• Creating a company culture that includes and supports women workers
• Setting concrete parity goals and specific policies
• Intentionality in implementing those goals, along with ensuring follow-up
• Senior women who act as role models
• Networking among female journalists
• Consciousness-raising through participation in feminist organizations
• Forging alliances with our male colleagues
• Ongoing skills development and training programs
• Confidence building in oneself and others

And with that, the auditorium full of professional women in jeans, power suits, minidresses, saris, headscarves and kinte-cloth gowns, speaking in a symphony of different languages, set off to their concurrent sessions to make this ambitious agenda a reality.

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Panel Shares Best Practices to Get More Women in Media

mspencers Icon Posted by Miranda Spencer

August 17th, 2011

Reading Carolyn Byerly’s recent post, “Keeping two eyes on the Global Report on Status of Women in News,” reminded me to post — way belatedly — my live blog of the IWMF plenary panel last March on news-organization best practices around the world. I was privileged to attended the IWMF conference as a volunteer, and the organization has given me permission to post it in full. (A shorter version was up at the site but is no longer available, to my knowledge.)

What stood out for me was that, according to the panel participants, affirmative action — even quotas — have proven very effective in bringing women into influential positions in journalism, where they go on to prove themselves in spades. Will we ever see that here in the U.S.? I doubt it — sadly, it just ain’t the American way.

Please read on (it’s crazy long, but fascinating stuff):

Following are highlights of the panel discussion led by BBC’s Katty Kay on best practices– not only in developing women’s leadership in journalism, but also in bringing women’s experiences to the fore as story topics and women’s voices alive as story sources.

Kay led off by asking IWMF’s Global Report on Women in the News Media lead investigator and author Carolyn Byerly about some of the biggest challenges of compiling and analyzing the study data. Byerly replied that in some countries, it was very difficult to obtain interviews with news executives and other journalists – not, as some might expect, in more repressive regimes but rather in the most developed countries! She also pointed to the difficulty of gathering information in a uniform manner, considering how different organizations and job titles are across the globe.

Kay then asked her what surprised her the most about the results. For her, three things stood out:

The first was how certain regions stood “head and shoulders above others” in terms of opportunities for women journalists– specifically, several Eastern European countries in the former Soviet bloc, where the situation has only improved with the advent of democracy in the region.

The second was the relationship between national laws and the status of women in our field. The more gender equality is codified in law, the better women fare. In Uganda, for example, the constitution requires that its elected parliament be composed of at least 20% women, and women are also leaders in the news media.

The third was how a country’s culture enters into women’s job roles. She noted, “Educated women have advanced in certain occupations. But journalism hasn’t always been first occupation that educated women have chosen.” Thus, they may be underrepresented in the field.
Various companies globally had good track records. What we need to do, said Byerly, is “spotlight [the best] models and take lessons from them.”

Another key question Kay asked was why it’s important to have women not just as reporters but in senior leadership positions in media companies.

“Journalism is about choices, and if there are no women [in the field], that acts as a [news] filter,” she replied. “The newsroom needs different perspectives on news of the day. But its’s also good business to better reflect and serve” our audiences. “Those people need to be at the table, or we won’t connect to [them].”

Ines Pohl of Germany answered that how we look at topics, and “which questions we ask,” can benefit from a female point of view, noting later that “Who reports matters, because [women] can see new angles” to a story that men might not see. She said diversity in general benefits a news organization. “It changes how we deal with each other, and how we do journalism.”

Kjersti Sortlund of Norway noted that her paper is close to gender balance and that 49% of its readers are women. Quite simply, “Women journalists reflect our readers’ concerns.”

Looking more broadly, Barbara Kaija of Uganda asserted that in the developing world, gender equality in the newsroom is “only sensible; otherwise, how can we educate [a changing] society?” News that reflects women’s voices and needs helps to set the national agenda.

Silvia Miro Quesada of Peru (where women didn’t achieve the vote till 1956!) observed that the specific skills women have developed since time immemorial are an asset, especially in this new-media environment: “New ways to connect make women have a great advantage over men because of our communication skills and our social intelligence,” which we can use that to “jump into history.”

A great deal of the discussion revolved around how to actually achieve gender parity and women’s leadership in the newsroom. The two women from Europe pointed out that mandates for gender parity play an important role in advancing women. In Germany, those mandates include “strict” quotas. Such mandates create change not just because it’s required but because it forces both male and female employees to think about including women’s issues as story topics; assigning women to unconventional and even dangerous beats; and ensuring that women are regularly used as sources and pictured in photographs.

As an applause-generating example, Jennifer McGuire noted that Canada’s CBC has hiring equity practices in place. However, she said, “Good intentions not enough. [If you] ask people if they value diversity they’ll say yes, but when you do content analysis it doesn’t actually happen.” To get results, companies need to “declare a goal and then measure it and hold people accountable.”

Sortlund observed that it is vital for management to get involved in enforcing the drive for equity. In 1992, her organization made a formal agreement with the reporters’ union to achieve gender parity – AND created a policy on how to get there. “If I [tell an underling] ‘I won’t measure you on the number of scandals [you break] or front-page stories, but on finding good female reporters,’ then he will do it!”
Pohl told of the policy at her paper, which requires at least one woman on the front page of each issue – “and not just movie stars!” It’s not always easy, so the editor makes a point to ask reporters for story ideas involving women.

Special policies are only one way to push women forward, however. Miro Quesada claimed that at her organization, promotions are based on merit. Everyone is highly skilled, and women rise organically because of that. McGuire echoed her, saying that investing in women “Is not about giving people who aren’t qualified a job.”

But simply giving women opportunities isn’t the end of the story, the panel agreed. Making the workplace female-friendly, from having progressive policies that allow for work/family balance to instituting mentoring, skills-training, and leadership development programs, is also part of the equation. Moreover, they said, we need to encourage women to overcome their own self-limiting perceptions.

McGuire told of two women political reporters at the CBC, both of whom were forced to choose between returning to work full time after having children or leaving the organization. (The two had come up with an innovative job-sharing plan, which management rejected.) ”We don’t’ want to lose women who have families,” she said. Byerly pointed out that European nations have more generous parental leave laws and government-funded childcare that free woman to HAVE careers. Global news organizations need to consider such things if we’re to be serious about gender equity.

Later, Kaija explained that Uganda’s maternity-leave policy has become more generous in recent years, but it only happened because there were women in top management pulling for it. Even then, “We had to keep fighting for it.”

Kay then asked the group about pushback against, and obstacles to, gender equity efforts at media companies. McGuire noted that when CBS’s Lara Logan was sexually assaulted while reporting on the uprisings in Egypt, the public discussion centered on whether it was wise to send women into danger zones. “It’s absurd,” she stated, pointing out that the CBC routinely sends female camera operators to violent areas.
Miro Quesada noted the special challenges of sending women into conflict areas in Peru, recalling that some 20 years ago a reporter working in country was assassinated by rebels from the group Shining Path. One of the lessons learned was to prepare female reporters to adapt to expectations about women while on assignment; for example, one stringer in the Cuzco region found she had to communicate differently – even with cab drivers – to get her story, and was warned to prepare to defend herself because “you can be raped at any moment.” But, Miro Quesada added, women are still more than willing to go on such assignments.

She also stated that it’s more important to find and publish good stories that involve women than to have one on the front page every day. To that end, she recommended developing a database of women experts to use as sources.

Moving back to the topic of how to nurture female journalists within an organization, the panelists echoed something Pohl had said earlier: “Women leaders need to be visible. Young women will then feel free to come forward.” Sundland recalled how when she began her career 20 years ago, the ratio of female to male reporters was about 30/70, which didn’t make for a comfortable workplace. Imbalances “really affect how we work together and the quality of work life.” So her organization held seminars that allowed women journalist to network among women leaders in the field, which has helped bring the balance closer to even.

More important, she said, the addition of women has improved the quality of journalism. She recalled how historically, Norwegian press coverage of scores of women murdered by their husbands tended to take a “family tragedy” angle. A woman-initiated project took a different tack, profiling all of the victims, which gave real faces to the grim statistics portrayed in conventional murder stories.

Kaija maintained that women reporters who cover issues of concern to women in interesting ways offer news organizations the benefit of engaging both female and male audiences. Framing matters too, the panel noted – there’s an important difference between a headline blaring “Man Dies in Accident” and one reading “Father of Two Dies in Accident.”

Kay then inquired about the challenges unique to women entering journalism, and how to deal with it. Miro Quesada recalled that, as one of the first female editors at her outlet, she learned the ropes from the men, but also saw how women can adapt them to their own reporting styles. One female investigative reporter told her that the guys warned that if she wanted to cultivate sources, she’d have to take them out for drinks at night. The reporter didn’t feel comfortable doing that, but found different ways to pursue these vital relationships. In the process, she “made [these methods] more professional, without having to use the macho manner.”

Sometimes, said Kaija, women simply lack certain skills that role models could help them develop. She pointing out that “ladies in Uganda have covered the Congolese war and the Rwandan genocide,” yet possess few investigative skills. The reason: They have role models for conflict reporting, but none for enterprise reporting.

To remedy any skills imbalances, the panel recommended that, in a world where women are two-thirds of journalism students, female faculty mentor them. They also urged women in the newsroom to “encourage women to do jobs they aren’t sure of themselves on,” as Pohl put it. Indeed, confidence is a big barrier to moving ahead in the field, the panel agreed. As Kay said, “A man looks in the mirror and sees a future senator; a woman waits to be asked to run!” Recognizing this, we need to proactively seek out talent in our newsrooms and develop it.

The discussion closed with the panelists offering key messages for audience members to take back to their workplaces, which centered on the need for:
• Proactive leadership within a news organization, starting at the top
• Creating a company culture that includes and supports women workers
• Setting concrete parity goals and specific policies
• Intentionality in implementing those goals, along with ensuring follow-up
• Senior women who act as role models
• Networking among female journalists
• Consciousness-raising through participation in feminist organizations
• Forging alliances with our male colleagues
• Ongoing skills development and training programs
• Confidence building in oneself and others

And with that, the auditorium full of professional women in jeans, power suits, minidresses, saris, headscarves and kinte-cloth gowns, speaking in a symphony of different languages, set off to their concurrent sessions to make this ambitious agenda a reality.

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