Member blog post: Closing journalism’s gender gap, a forum on women and leadership

SarahDWireBy Sarah D. Wire, JAWS member

At least a dozen JAWS members joined colleagues discussing ways to help more women achieve leadership positions in journalism Monday, June 30, at the National Press Club. The event, sponsored by The National Press Club Journalism Institute and The Poynter Institute, is available here.

Jill Geisler, senior faculty for Poynter’s leadership and management division, and Kelly McBride, Poynter’s vice president of academic programs, moderated the discussion. On the panel were New York Times Washington bureau chief Carolyn Ryan, National Geographic editor in chief Susan Goldberg, NPR News executive editor Madhulika Sikka, Politico managing editor Rachel Smolkin and McClatchy Newspapers vice president of news Anders Gyllenhaal.

McBride began by leading the audience through several statistics, including that only four women serve as editors-in-chief of the 25 largest dailies in the U.S. and only one of the top 25 papers has a female publisher.

The American Society of News Editors’ publication, The Bulletin, reported that in 1982 women made up 10 percent of leadership positions at newspapers. A University of Denver study titled “Benchmarking Women’s Leadership” found that, in 2012, women made up 19 percent of newspaper leadership positions, 22 percent of television leadership positions and 55 percent of social media leadership positions.

To increase that number, “You don’t get there by going out and trying to find women editors,” Gyllenhaal said. “You build it. This is a years-long thing.”

Some panelists said that slow growth was because of upheaval and layoffs in traditional media that either hit women more significantly or caused newsrooms to place less of a focus on advancing women.

Citing the same University of Denver study and a 2014 Women’s Media Center study, it was noted that 64 percent of journalism and mass communications graduates are women, but women only make up 36 percent of journalism’s workforce.

Panelists talked about being mindful of how people perceive leaders and that it’s not about making women fit into business culture and stereotypes, but also expanding that culture to different types of leaders.

Goldberg said women shouldn’t need to act like men to do their job successfully.

Panelists talked about women finding mentors to give advice and sponsors who actively advocate for people. Anders said when women are looking for a sponsor, they should let friends and colleagues know.

They also spoke about women taking the initiative to ask for a raise.

Ryan said in her experience women ask for more money less often than men.

“So to the degree that when we leave this room, we can kind of banish bashfulness, we will have done something,” she said.

Geisler said that studies have shown that women who ask for raises are not seen as team players and are rated as being hard to work with.

One audience member said she was concerned about balancing her career and potential children. Smolkin urged her not to base career decisions on whether it might be hard as a mother.

“Try it, and if it’s too hard, you can always readjust,” she said.

Poynter plans to solicit donations for leadership scholarships for women and will run a series of essays on by women newsroom leaders. Pitches can be sent to .

Afterward, JAWS members joined several of the panelists for a drink, taking over the Press Club lounge for more than an hour.

Interested members can join future D.C. events. Find out more on the D.C. regional listserv here.