Gender equality is not a women’s issue

By Agneta Söderberg Jacobsson

Hem/News/Gender equality is not a women’s issue

Unique Fojo study on gender equality in the media in Eastern Europe

From the time when modern news media was born, men have dominated the industry. Both in terms of representation in content and among reporters behind the stories. In recent years some radical changes can be seen in this pattern, with interesting regional variations. In several countries in Eastern Europe women now dominate the profession.

“Where is this going to end? If this trend continues, we will soon end up with a one hundred percent female journalist corps.” The outstanding data for Belarus came as a bit of a chock  for the representative from the leading journalist association in Belarus. According to the Fojo study, women make up more than 70 percent of the journalists in Belarus (in 2016).[1] In all six countries covered by Fojo’s regional study on media and gender equality, women now seem to make up the majority of the journalist work force.[2]

In Sweden, the gender balance within the workforce shifted around 2005, after a period of feminisation starting in the mid 80’s.[3] A similar development can be seen in a number of countries, but on a global level the number of women reporting the news stagnated at 37 percent during the period 2005-2015, according to the Global Media Monitoring Project.[4]  Interestingly enough, this pattern does not correspond with the general perception that the Global North is ahead when it comes to gender equality. Latin America, the Pacific and Caribbean are actually ahead of Europe and North America in numbers when it comes to gender balance among reporters. [5] Adding also news presenters, the Middle East, Asia and Caribbean are close to gender parity, while North America shows a decrease by 8 percent (down from 46 to 38 percent), and Europe a tiny growth with only one percent (up from 40 to 41 percent).[6]

More women in the industry is a positive sign, in line with what gender and media activists have advocated for a long time. But what happens when the balance is struck and it tips over to the other side? The Fojo study indicates that the change in balance is more about men leaving the profession, rather than women actively choosing to enter it. And this happens in parallel to a general decrease in salary level and loss in prestige of the profession. While women tend to stay in traditional media business, men seem to end up in better payed sectors like media tech companies or in PR. Also, there seems to be an issue with women being over-qualified for their positions, while men are in the same positions without having relevant education. So, the media business might have become more gender equal on the surface, but at the same time new inequalities have emerged (or rather well along established gender patterns with status and money following the male sex).

Looking at the bigger picture, with documented loss in trust for journalism and traditional news media (as well as in social media) it all ends up quite gloomy. When women have finally entered the scene, the spot-light turns elsewhere. On the other hand, there are also quite a bit of evidence that women are well represented among entrepreneurs starting up new innovative digital news media. To summarize, there is not one single trend but rather a multi-facetted reality that we have to relate to.

To complicate things even more, the belief that more women in the industry would automatically bring with them more gender equal content and less of gender stereotypes, might not hold true. The Fojo study shows that journalists of both genders reproduce outdated gender stereotypes and that the imbalance between women and men in news media content seems to persist despite an influx of women reporters and editors. In a global perspective, the Middle East, with parity in the workforce between the sexes, might serve as an example, as it scores the lowest among the regions when it comes to gender equality in the content (18 percent women). Whereas the US, with an actual decrease of women in the industry, shows the highest number when it comes to content (36 percent).

One interesting parameter to add to this is gender in relation to decision-making. In Russia, and some of the countries covered by the study, women are well represented in decision-making positions. Although, a closer examination reveals a pyramid, with relatively many women leading regional media while men dominate the top tier consisting of few but influential and financially strong news media. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to investigate the connection between size and influence of media, and gender in decision making and content within this study.

Beyond all these data exercises, that might confuse us more than bring clarity, it is important to remember that the ultimate goal is giving fair and equal voice to all. Simply put, gender equality and diversity are integral to professional journalism and not negotiable. In return, we will hopefully get nuanced media content that helps societies develop along democratic and peaceful lines. One sign of progress, is that the coverage of sexual harassment seems to have improved in some countries (Ukraine and Georgia), under influence from the #metoo movement.[7] This is something to celebrate, regardless of other trends that are hard to interpret.

Read the full report here (Gender report 2020 English and Russian).

[1] This ratio was confirmed by the Global Media Monitoring Project already in 2015, where the estimation was as high as 79%.
[2] These numbers are based on responses from more than 1000 media professionals who were asked about the gender mix in their newsrooms.
[3] Monika Djerf-Pierre, “The Gender of Journalism”, Nordicom Review, Jubilee Issue 2007, JMG, University of Gothenburg, page 81.
[4] The 2015 GMMP uncovered what appears to be a global glass ceiling for female news reporters, at least as far as they are visible in newspaper bylines and newscast (television and radio) reports. The ceiling was hit in 2005 when women reported 37% of stories in print, television and radio combined. The statistic has remained unchanged across the decade. New data will be available in 2021 (2020 edition of Who Makes the News?).
[5] Ibid. Latin America (41%), Pacific (45%), Caribbean (44%), Europe (37%), North America (40%).
[6] Ibid. page 48.
[7] ECER gender study, page 24: In the opinion of the experts (interviewed), the ongoing change in how sexual harassment is being presented in media outlets is the biggest accomplishment of the past years: “Victim-blaming used to be widespread, women used to be described as “guilty”, but today, the media realise more and more that the victim is not guilty, the rapist is. The way the information is presented has changed”.