Cover girls or decision makers?


In the newsroom that employs Dijana Damjanovic, the dreaded ‘glass ceiling’ doesn’t appear to exist for women. “I certainly see women in the top jobs around me… They’re feared, they’re powerful, they’re respected by many, and they do their job well.” Damjanovic is in her first year of the workforce after graduating from her journalism studies at Charles Sturt University (CSU). “From where I am now, I would describe the situation for women in my workplace as a wholly positive one,” she confirms. Last year, Damjanovic was employed by ABC current affairs as a production coordinator. Also last year, it was confirmed that despite women making up more than half of Australian newsrooms, men continue to pocket more pay and monopolise power positions.

Folker Hanusch of the University of Queensland (QUT) found in his national survey of Australian journalists that out of his 605 respondents, 55.5 per cent were female. The numbers of women journalists has, however, increased since John Henningham first did a study into the Australian journalism profession 20 years ago, when women represented only 33 per cent of the whole workforce. But overall, according to the QUT study, women currently represent a mere 30 per cent of senior management positions, that is, those who have the power to shape news content such as Editor or Director of News. Not until 1993 did a woman become the editor of a major daily newspaper, when Michelle Grattan was selected to head The Canberra Times.

In 1995, Freelance researcher Margaret Gallagher found female journalists earned on average 74 per cent of a male’s salary. In 2013, Hanusch found that while 53.1 per cent of male journalists earn over $72,000 a year, only 35.6 percent of women receive the same wages. The gap grows larger still, in higher occupational ranks, where 1.2 per cent of women earn over $144,000 a year, compared with 9.8 per cent of men making the same amount.

Dijana Damjanovic was entirely aware of the barriers that had previously hindered women’s chances of reaching the top jobs in the newsroom. After all, the industry was professionalised and driven through time by men. But this was her first acquaintance with the daunting figures of today, which suggest she may still be prevented from reaching the top of the media food chain.

Deepa Ranganathan faced the same issues, until she dropped out of the field. After studying rigorously for ten months at the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media (IIJNM) in Bangalore, it took her less than a year to abandon the idea of working as a full time journalist. Ranganathan was excelling in the field, winning a prestigious Laadli Media Award for Sensitivity in 2011 for her article titled, ‘Boy’s Don’t Cry,’ and working as a sub-editor at a daily newspaper. But Ranganathan found she was underwhelmed by her beats and her insatiable desire to write, “and write pretty darn well.”

It is remarkably hard to determine wage gaps in India, with 85 per cent of Indian companies failing to monitor their employees’ pay. Further, when Dr Carolyn Byerly conducted the International Women’s Media Foundation’s (IWMF) study for the Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media in 2011, only four out of 17 companies surveyed disclosed information about wage at governance and top-management levels of employment. Data retrieved indicated that much like Australia, pay gaps between male and female journalists progressively widen in higher ranks. Of Ranganathan’s cohort, roughly 45 of the 70 that graduated were females. In 2013, Mumbai University’s Department of Communication and Journalism boasted a 3:2 ratio of women to men – the same statistics prevailing in schools across the country.

These numbers are not very different in Australian schools, where females represent almost 70 per cent of the journalism student population. At CSU, Damjanovic found men were prominent in her course in their first year of studies but when she came back in second year, the numbers had clearly dwindled, “I would say most of them went over to sports journalism or advertising.” But while Australian female journalism graduates still seem to be entering the workforce, their Indian counterparts appear to drop off rapidly. As Ranganathan points out, “It’s interesting how the student intake is filled with female population, while the media industry doesn’t boast of the same.”

Today, females make up only a quarter of all journalists in India. While these statistics are significant, independent journalist and freelancer, Ammu Jospeh points out that India is diverse and impossible to generalise. The humble expert likened it to an analogy of six blind men and an elephant: “Each one describes it according to which part of the animal they have touched and it’s a bit like that trying to describe [the media in] India.” Having authored the Indian chapter of The Palgrave International Handbook of Women and Journalism, Joseph explains it is undeniable there are innumerable success stories of female journalists evident in India’s major metropolitan television channels and newspapers. However, in order to get the real picture of India’s media situation, one must take in media from all parts of the population and in several languages. Joseph was faced with skepticism she presented in New Delhi from Dr Carolyn Byerly’s Global Report, in November 2011. Her Indian colleagues began to question where the statistics came from and began citing names of many successful female journalists in India. But she wasn’t surprised at Ranganathan’s story, given the results of her research, which demonstrated the high attrition rate of women from the news media.

After leaving her sub-editing job in Mumbai, Ranganathan decided to pursue her masters in Women’s Studies and now works as a Communication Associate at Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT) in New Delhi. Ammu Joseph explains that many young people enter journalism with the desire to have a meaningful career and find when they enter media organisations, there is little room for this kind of work. The enthusiasm to use journalism as a means to transform society was similarly felt amongst Ranganathan’s peers. “I suspect most students enter the field of journalism with the intention of bringing about a social change.” Joseph strongly rejects the perception that women are frivolous in their work, not understanding the pressure felt by males to provide for the family. She suggests, rather, that it is the workspace itself that inhibits the female persistence and ability to excel.

In 2012, Amanda Wilson walked away from her post as the first woman editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, in the newspaper’s 180 years of publication. Her departure comes on either side of a number of women who have stepped down or been fired from positions of power in the newsroom in the last few years – Sylvie Kauffman and Natalie Nougayrède of Le Monde and The New York Times’ Janet Robinson and Jill Abramson. This prompted Wilson to write an article for the titled “Life and death as a Female Editor”. She details her struggle to achieve seniority at The Herald, and more so, the fight she encountered to gain respect as a leader against the sexism to which she was subjected. Having taken up the position of editor in a time of newspaper crisis, Wilson suggests women are only handed these roles of power when the media is in need of reshaping. “The big offer generally comes when senior management are grasping for solutions and want a change agent, so why not give the woman a go?” Whether or not her claims are shared with other senior female journalists or are just personal ones, there is no denying the obvious lack of women in top jobs in Australian news media.

Researcher and lecturer Dr Louise North, using the Australian findings from The Global Report, outlines the “blokey culture” that prevails in newsrooms and puts women in the position experienced by Amanda Wilson. As Wilson explains, “the mere fact of being a woman in the job attracts a vicious backlash. The more powerful a woman is, the more poisonous this is.” North suggests the inherent nature of news media is often seen by males to be unsuited to the emotions and characteristics of women and as a result, they must adapt to male customs. Folker Hanusch proposes the idea that, “for women to rise into senior roles, they have to often adapt to male values, to the ‘blokey culture’. They have to become one of the blokes to move up, so that men don’t see them as threatening,” further highlighting Wilson’s concerns. This male-driven culture inherently lacks consideration for the unavoidable role women play in having children. In both India and Australia, a maternity leave law exists, but is that enough to support these women?

“I have never heard of any institution, which gives even three months paternity leave,” Ammu Joseph asserts. There are only two laws that exist in India to support female journalists, both dubious in practice. Indian companies are legally bound to adhere to a 12-week paid maternity leave. Yet less than a third of women are likely to receive their same job again once they return to work.

When the IWMF Global Report was conducted in 2011, 82 per cent of media organisations claimed to have policies on sexual harassment in the workplace. Over the past two years, the spotlight was directed at media houses after a series of sexual assault cases occurred, including one in which the editor of the popular Indian news magazine Tehelka was charged for raping his junior, female colleague in the elevator of a hotel. The incident occurred at a magazine-sponsored event in Goa in November 2013. Not until then did some of the most reputed media organisations, “scramble to set up their sexual harassment committees,” told Joseph. “That shows, at least three years after the IWMF study was done, some of the most reputed organisations were still setting up their policies in December 2013. How could 80% of them claim to have these policies in 2010?” Joseph suggests the first step to change, is for media organisations to participate in properly documenting the situation for journalists to identify the inequities. But she doesn’t believe it’s a matter of laws alone. “We need to go much more in depth in finding out the reasons for attrition and then what media houses do to retain women.” Since then, India has introduced a law against Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace, but no major impacts have been noted since it passed in 2012.

The situation initially appeared more promising for Australian women, with all participating companies of the IWMF study confirming they had policies on sexual harassment. But when Dr Louise North conducted the largest existing survey of Australian women in the media in 2012, she found 57.3 per cent of the 577 participants had experienced sexual harassment. Most cases identified a male colleague or senior as the perpetrator.

While these statistics are grim, Folker Hanusch is optimistic about the future for women in the news media. Why? Because of the outstanding amount of women entering the workforce. On Mother’s Day 2014, Jo Casamento published an article showcasing, ‘Women in the media: on air and on top of motherhood,’ in The Sun Herald describing how women were “dominating” Australian media as newsrooms are becoming more “family-friendly”. Dijana agrees, also illustrating her workplace as a “family friendly” one.

So, is change possible? According to Hanusch, with a surge in the number of senior women in the media, there is potential for the transformation of newsroom culture, changing the news values of Australian media. Amanda Wilson too suggests that if young female journalists see more women in senior roles within the workplace, they will be more motivated to succeed, “They need to look up and see more than one woman in the senior ranks so they can find a role model that suits them better”. Perhaps ultimately, it’s Dijana’s admiration of those “powerful” and “respected” women in her newsroom that is the key to finally moving towards gender equality in the Australian newsroom.

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