It is heartening to see women representation increasing in almost all walks of life; they are leaving no stone unturned to strengthen their positions in their respective professions, proving themselves capable of efficiently performing roles they have taken up. However ‘representation’ may or may not always be the same as having a ‘voice’ in decisions taken at an organisation. This certainly affects outcomes and one is not always able to realise if lack of (gender) diversity is even a factor to consider.
Gender diversity is not an unfamiliar topic; it has been a concern since time immemorial and in almost every field of work, not just in Pakistan but across the globe. With time, the situation is definitely getting better, with more women venturing into diverse, unconventional fields and proving their mettle. Since the 1970s, most American industries have demonstrated an upward trend in female employment.
However, one field where numbers have decreased is journalism; women are still noticeably in the minority in journalistic roles, despite making up the majority of journalism students worldwide. Though there have been considerable changes in the prospects for women working in the media in the past few decades, the majority of high profile journalists and editors remain men in many countries.
The situation may vary across the board but what led to digging deeper into the subject was my recent trip to the United States for Media Training and Professional Journalism Development Program. Being a full-time journalist based in Pakistan, I was one of the nine female journalists who travelled to the U.S. for a two-week long training - starting from Washington, D.C., followed by a week-long placement in a newsroom in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
It is relevant to note that the newspaper I work at has a mix of both male and female editors, taking charge of a variety of content that goes on the pages. This is totally in contrast with what I noticed at the Tribune-Review newsroom near Pittsburgh that hosted me. With mostly male editors, the publication has a female executive editor, named Susan K. McFarland, in addition to president/CEO, Jennifer Bertetto.
In order to look into the subject of representation of women journalists in newsrooms, I spoke to John Allison, Director of Content at the Tribune-Review and Triblive.com, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as well as Zebunnisa Burki, Deputy Editor at Op-Ed, The News International, based in Karachi, Pakistan. The two talk about importance of gender diversity in newsrooms, what has been done so far to improve women representation and if the lack of women in decision-making roles makes any difference.
There is a glaring void when women editors or women producers are missing from the conversation. The male gaze has been held for so long as the benchmark for what ‘news’ is; we need to change not just who runs the newsroom but also what the newsroom is producing. That can only happen when the historically marginalised: women, ethnic, racial and class minorities take their rightful place in the boardroom.
The Tribune-Review has two newsrooms, the one near Pittsburgh that hosted me and the other in Greensburg, a nearby city. John Allison, who works in both newsrooms, noted that a number of female editors work in the Greensburg office. The editorial editor (called the Community Engagement Editor) is a woman named Lori Falce. In news, Becky Poole is a local news editor, Jonna Miller is the features editor while Marje Horvath is a senior design editor. Again, the top editor is Susan K. McFarland aka Sue whereas Jennifer Bertetto is the president/CEO.
“Gender diversity is important. Over the past 20 years, it has been steadily achieved with deliberate action by media companies, along with the general progress for women in the workplace, as well as higher college graduation rates for women,” Allison notes. “Newspaper reporting and editing is a field that has few barriers to entry for women. It’s absolutely important as media leaders seek to understand their audience; women alongside men in the newsroom is essential to creating journalism that appeals to more readers,” he adds.
Allison shares that throughout the newspaper industry, there was and still is a strong effort to recruit women for leadership positions in newspapers. “While there may not be many women as editor in chief or executive editor - the Tribune-Review being a standout with Sue in charge - my hunch is that women can be found in equal measures throughout the mastheads of newspapers around the nation. It has been done with deliberate, affirmative action,” he informs.
John Allison feels this field rewards the skills that women - speaking in general and according to Social Science studies - bring to a work setting: listening, writing ability, teamwork, empathy, collaboration, imagination. Emphasising on subject, Allison, who visited Pakistan a few years ago as part of an exchange programme, stresses that women in the newsroom can help guide story selection to make them more varied, more in connection with the way people live.
Following the same vein, Zebunnisa Burki admits she has been very lucky in having been able to get strong editorial positions over the past years in her career. She seconds that gender diversity (in fact, diversity overall - whether class, ethnic or racial) is very important in a newsroom. “It not only affects the immediate work space but also impacts the way news is seen and told,” she tells. “In my current position too, I am involved in every step of the way in the editorial process. I do think, though, that that’s very often not the case - in the electronic media, in particular,” she points out.
Reflecting on the significance of female voice in decision-making and if a lack of one makes a difference, she asserts that it is very important. However, she adds, “The female voice must also be representative of those women whose voices are not heard or who are not generally involved in decision-making processes within newsrooms.”
She furthers, “There is a glaring void when women editors or women producers are missing from the conversation. The male gaze has been held for so long as the benchmark for what ‘news’ is; we need to change not just who runs the newsroom but also what the newsroom is producing. That can only happen when the historically marginalised: women, ethnic, racial and class minorities take their rightful place in the boardroom.”
Picking up from here, Burki rightly points out the need to have diverse newsrooms not just in terms of gender but beyond class, race or ethnicity. It does help achieve a holistic picture when stories are approached from a perspective that is not restricted or coming from a ‘specific’ group of people but rather incorporates viewpoints from varied sections of a society let alone women.
Even if we speak of gender diversity, in particular, study suggests that there is considerable difference in stories produced with or without inclusion of women. For a complete picture, it is essential to know how men and women both look at a particular subject. As John Allison aptly concludes, “I think it is too simple to say that women will make the stories more ‘compassionate’, but having women and men involved in guiding news coverage helps promote a complete picture of reality.”