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Home Page > Articles in English > Glass Ceiling in Media


The following article was originally published on PINK Magazine's Web site and on SheSource.org.


Glass Ceiling in Media
A Woman's Labyrinth

By Tekla Szymanski

gender differences explained"Equal rights for the sexes will be achieved when mediocre women occupy high positions," the French writer and feminist Françoise Giroud (1916-2003) once said. And the former mayor of Ottawa, Charlotte Whitton, proclaimed in 1963: "Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily this is not difficult."

Does that strike you as too harsh an assessment? Then consider this: In general, top women media executives are promoted based on their performance, whereas men are widely promoted based on their potential and their connections.

Let's look at the facts: According to a study of 1,200 executives in eight countries, conducted by the consulting firm Accenture in 2006, about 70% of women and 57% of men believe that an invisible barrier, the so-called "glass ceiling" (a phrase coined in 1986 by the Wall Street Journal) prevents women from advancing to top positions in the workplace. Even though women held a greater percentage of powerful board committee chair positions in 2007 than in the year before, women account for 52% of entry-level jobs, but only 28% of top-level positions according to Catalyst, a nonprofit research organization. And while a growing number of white women do manage to penetrate the glass ceiling, it is still a concrete wall for African-American women: Among the 13 women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, 11 are white — and two are Asian-American.

  • Media industries reflect the same barriers. According to a study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, less than one in five board members of the largest communications companies are women. Moreover,

  • Men account for more than three in four of the top executive media positions.

  • In the seven commercial broadcast and cable networks, women account for only 32% of news executives.

  • Among the 120 broadcast and cable TV CEOs, only 16% are women. Four out of five heads of local TV stations and cable systems are men.

  • According to Catalyst, only 23% of top newspaper positions are held by women.

  • In radio, also according to Catalyst, almost 80% of the news directors are men (small wonder, when only a quarter of the overall radio staff are women).

  • Only in magazines that focus mainly on women's issues Catalyst found, women tend to fare better: 28% of the publishers and half the executive editors and senior editors are female.

According to Catalyst, women make up about 38% of journalists in the United States; however, they often feel that they need to work twice as hard to get ahead. "One reason the glass ceiling remains strong in broadcast and newspapers is media consolidation, which squeezes out positions at the top and in mid-management, where women might have been in the pipeline to advance," explains Gloria Feldt, an author and activist for women's rights. "When resources are scarce, the old boys' network closes ranks and chooses leaders it feels most comfortable with — those most like themselves."

Even today, women seem less likely than men to be seen and heard in public. They don't appear as often on the Sunday morning talk shows, and, according to The New York Times, 65-75% of unsolicited op-ed manuscripts nationwide are submitted by men.

Catherine Orenstein, author, activist and op-ed writer, has been spearheading "The Op-Ed Project," a national initiative that so far has trained hundreds of women leaders in their fields to write for op-ed pages. Orenstein sees the silence of women op-ed writers as the root of the problem that women are underrepresented in the media's top positions and in the public debate. "Probably a combination of factors is responsible for why women don't submit op-eds as often — history, habit, psychology, socialization. The result is that editors have a far smaller rolodex of women than men to call upon when they need an op-ed written. The problem becomes perpetuated — not only on the op-ed pages, but beyond — because the op-ed pages are a major feeder of other media," says Orenstein. Women's news organizations and online databases like SheSource.org and womensenews.org are trying to fill the gap.

Women have to change and take charge, to demand recognition and not shy away from confrontation, says Feldt. "Women need to act. Be sisters who reach out to help each other get ahead. Have the courage to challenge the status quo and apply what I call 'Sister Courage' principles directed at the goal of gender parity at the top. [Women] tend to feel isolated and to try to solve their problems individually."

Gail Evans, who retired from CNN in 2001 as the network's first female executive vice president, agrees, even though she dislikes the term "glass ceiling" because it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. "It's about a general power shift that hasn't happened yet," says Evans. "Women need to learn how to play the game. We all buy into the same stereotypes: Women take care — and men take charge. Women have to start supporting each other more. Their success is connected. Women think it's all about 'I can do it'. They think that 'If I try hard, it'll change'. We have to go from 'I can do it', which gives isolated success, to 'We can do it'.

And we need to demand our dues. Out of 2,600 highly accomplished women that PINK Magazine recently polled in six cities, about half had not asked for a raise in salary in a full year. Of those who had asked for a raise, more than two thirds received one. "We have to become more of a force to be reckoned with," says Cynthia Good, CEO and founding editor of PINK. "Ask for a raise! If you don't ask, you make less money."

Over the years, the once impenetrable glass ceiling in media has given way to a labyrinth, where passage is challenging but not impossible. Skill, persistence, self-awareness, creativity, ingenuity, a little chutzpah and a bit of luck are required to find the circuitous way up. Women with families also need to have good daycare, flexible hours and an understanding partner. "We need to get out of our comfort zone," concludes Cynthia Good.

Read also:

RTNDA's 2008 Women and Minorities Survey: http://www.rtnda.org/pages/media_items/the-face-of-the-workforce1472.php

Home Page > Articles in English > Glass Ceiling in Media