When I arrived in South Jersey almost four years ago, I spent one-on-one time with each staff member in the newsroom, as has been my habit in every market that I’ve worked.
In different conversations, several women brought up the fact that I am the first female executive editor in the 122-year history of The Press. They were really proud, they said, and optimistic about what my leadership could mean for the newsroom and our readers.
While there are more women in newsrooms now than ever before, change is happening but not quickly enough in most news organizations.
There is still too much sexism, and the amount I’ve witnessed and personally experienced as a female professional is disappointing. And it’s not the overt Harvey Weinstein kind, but more the subtle, insidious kind, like a drip-drip-drip that can drive you crazy. And for some women, that kind of environment makes them throw up their hands and move on.
Early in my career, I had an editor tell me I shouldn’t wear skirts to work because they were too distracting. I bought a cheap black pantsuit and stopped wearing skirts for many years after that.
Years later, after I was given a promotion to oversee an additional two departments, my supervisor warned me that two of the male managers I was inheriting would probably be a challenge for me.
“Why is that?” I asked.
He looked at me like I was stupid. “Because you’re a woman,” he said.
The two managers were my friends at the time (still are) and never had any problems working for me. They were insulted that he assumed they would.
Key findings from this year’s Women in the Workplace study, conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, shed some light on why our progress has been so slow.
The bar for gender equality is too low. Nearly 50 percent of men think women are well represented in leadership in companies where only one in 10 senior leaders is a woman. A much smaller but still significant number of women agree: a third think women are well-represented when they see one in 10 in leadership.
Women hit the glass ceiling early. At the first critical step up to manager, women are 18 percent less likely to be promoted than their male peers. This gender disparity has a dramatic effect on the representation of women: If entry-level women were promoted at the same rate as their male peers, the number of women at higher leadership levels would more than double.
With job pressures, widespread layoffs, long hours, and low or stagnant pay, recruiting and retaining quality journalists has been a struggle for the newspaper industry for some time. Women who enter the field often face additional hurdles, from less access and support from senior managers to not being taken seriously to greater family responsibilities and expectations outside of work.
The consequences are felt throughout news organizations.
Last month, the American Society of News Editors released its latest diversity survey, which found that the share of women in newsrooms has increased barely one percentage point since 2001.
Women made up 39.1 percent of all newsroom employees in 2017 compared to 38.7 percent in 2016, with a higher number employed at online-only websites than at newspapers. And that’s only up slightly from way back in 2001, when it was 37.4 percent.
Of all newsroom leaders, 38.9 percent were women, compared to 37.1 percent in 2016.
For many people inside and outside journalism, having women compose more than a third of the staff is sufficient.
That thinking is wrong and here’s why.
First, the idea that news and storytelling is still primarily a man’s world is a big problem. More than ever, newsrooms need a variety of voices, experiences and talents to reflect the diverse lives of their readers and communities.
Women are more than half the population. Their stories and perspectives should reflect their presence in the real world.
Besides benefits of balance for the reader, there are also bottom line reasons that businesses (not just newspapers) should make hiring and promoting women a priority. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians, according to a 2015 report by LeanIn and McKinsey.
We need to continue to push for gender equality in newsrooms and everywhere else. It’s good for the staff, the community and the bottom line.
Kris Worrell is executive editor and vice president, news.
Contact: 609-272-7277 KWorrell@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressWorrell