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The news industry still has a gender diversity problem – here’s how to make it more inclusive

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Women are under-represented in newsrooms across the world. Image: Unsplash/Cowomen

Jeanne Bourgault
President and CEO, Internews
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Society and Equity

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Women remain under-represented in both news and newsrooms across the world, thanks to the wide gender gap in the journalism industry.
  • The From Outrage To Opportunity report explores the marginalization of women, particularly women of colour, working in the sector.
  • Making news more gender diverse has a range of benefits including building audience trust and making news organizations more profitable.

The belief that the gender gap in the world’s newsrooms is no longer a concern strengthens with every high-profile editorial announcement of a woman in news leadership.

But beyond the surface lies a much more problematic truth. Recent research focusing on six countries – the UK, Nigeria, India, South Africa, Kenya, and the US – offers a picture of enduring systemic underrepresentation of women in a male-dominated field.

As Chief Executive of Internews, I have worked in the sector for over two decades, and in this time, I have had the opportunity to visit many different newsrooms across the globe.

Throughout my experiences, I’ve seen first-hand the importance of having inclusive content and diverse newsrooms – and how inclusivity contributes to the longevity of news media platforms.

Have you read?

From Outrage to Opportunity: How to Include the Missing Perspectives of Women of All Colors in News Leadership and Coverage is the third in a series of ‘Missing Perspective’ reports. The new report explores the marginalization faced by women, and especially women of colour, in the news industry.

Commissioned by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and authored by Luba Kassova, the report features an analysis of newsrooms and news stories uncovering that women are still “very much on the margins of editorial decision-making in the highest-profile news beats”.

Importantly, the report does not merely highlight the gender diversity problem in the industry, but it also provides an array of solutions that would generate progress on a myriad of challenges – from building audience trust to making news organizations more profitable.

“News leaders often believe that the solution to resolving representation and inclusion challenges within news organizations is hiring more women or people of colour. However, my interviews with dozens of senior editors revealed that while hiring more women of colour is an important first step, it is not enough,” says Kassova.

“The interviews with editors from across the globe unearthed three key barriers to inclusion of women in news leadership: the first one is indeed their underrepresentation. The second one is the prevalent soft vs hard news assignment gender bias which manifests in women being seen as more suitable for editors of “soft” news such as health and education, while men for “hard” and high-profile news such as politics and business. The third barrier is the perceived lack of sufficient support for women’s career progression.”

Richard Addy, Lead Quantitative Researcher and Business Case Author, found that there is an 11-12% point addressable gender news consumption gap between women and men. If this gap were closed by one percentage point each year over the next decade via targeted strategic, editorial, and creative decisions across the whole news value chain, global revenues in the newspaper industry could increase by an astonishing cumulative $11 billion by 2027 and $38 billion by 2032.

In 2016, Amedia, the largest publisher of local newspapers in Norway, set up a new editorial department to analyze data from different newsrooms. The data scientists found that the most gender-balanced newsrooms and those that write most about women’s issues deliver the best audience and financial performances.

It's important to note that the case for more diverse newsrooms should not be built solely on financial considerations. The From Outrage to Opportunity report clearly shows that an over-reliance on the financial argument generates cynicism, undermines staff belonging and further alienates underrepresented demographics.

When embarking on the process to bridge the gender gap, “the business case should support and underpin the fairness-based journalistic duty and audience relevance arguments”.

So how can news outlets start on their journey towards bridging the gender gap?

Creating a gender diversity strategy

Organizations need to be intentional about change at all levels within their structure. It's not enough to just make a plea to hire more women. Before creating the strategy it’s imperative to carry out a gender audit across the whole news value chain – this can help to identify the problem areas.

A conscious decision needs to be made to continuously build an understanding of how underrepresented women are along the whole news value chain – looking at the proportion of women in newsrooms, news leadership, newsgathering, news outputs and news consumption. This can be achieved by developing a gender strategy that ties in with the overall organizational news strategy.

Back in 2016, The Guardian reported that Mint, the leading business newspaper in Delhi, India, was “breaking ground in an industry that has largely been dominated by men”. When Mint launched, gender equality was part of the newspapers core business strategy.

The newspaper has adopted a policy that stipulates that its coverage should include at least one external expert voice on women’s issues; a further policy mandates at least one-woman contributor to its op-ed pages in every issue of the daily. This multi-layered approach to gender diversity has allowed Mint to publish unique stories written by women journalists.

Covering more women-centred news stories

Providing content that is inclusive to all is imperative for the longevity of any news platform. News organizations need to increase news coverage that aims to shed light on the existing gaps between women and men, which are deepened among people of colour.

In addition, to ensure that news coverage is inclusive to all audiences, the report highlights the importance of adding a ‘gender lens’ to all stories – allowing for both women and men perspectives to be voiced.

That is, the report suggests that there is a need for both expanded coverage of women’s issues and gender inequalities in various areas – as a discrete topic area – as well as a ‘horizontal’ approach – or a gender lens – applied across all news beats.

News leadership teams can consider rolling out weekly editorial meetings involving diverse groups to identify new story angles. They can also introduce newsletters and newspaper pull-outs focusing on stories relevant to women audiences.

Earlier this year, The Guardian’s global development website launched the newsletter Her Stage to cover issues relevant to women, but in a way that is also accessible to men. The quantitative analysis revealed that the average open rate for Her Stage so far has been 65%, versus an industry average of between 15% and 25%.

Improving representation of women of colour

From Outrage to Opportunity revealed that women of colour are locked out of most senior editorial decision-making in the highest-profile news outlets in the UK, and are severely marginalized in the US.

According to the report, women of colour are more marginalized in news leadership in the UK than in any other six researched countries in the report. And, although the US news media landscape has the highest proportion of economics/business (60%) and health editors (71%) who are women among the six countries – women of colour yet again are disproportionately underrepresented.

We need editorial leadership teams across both the UK and the US to address the lack of women of colour representation and take action towards creating change and being transparent in their results - The New York Times team did just that.

Back in 2021, The New York Times set a goal to increase the representation of Black/African American and Latino/ Hispanic colleagues in leadership by 50% by 2025. In an update in July 2021, they published for the first-time data around staff retention and promotion by race and ethnicity to offer a complete picture of their current situation and where they need to improve.


How is the World Economic Forum promoting equity in the workplace?

For Internews, an organization that has worked for decades to improve the portrayal and inclusion of women in news and to increase their access to information, this research represents a ground-breaking moment.

It offers a holistic framework with tangible solutions to close the gender gap in news and, even further, it provides substantial evidence to educate funders, news leaders and journalists on the ethical and financial imperatives of ensuring that the news reflect the reality of women’s lives and experiences.

The power to make news more inclusive and gender diverse is in our hands, we need to take advantage of it.

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Forum InstitutionalIndustries in DepthEquity, Diversity and Inclusion
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Institutional update

World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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