January 2015: Underrepresentation

Women elected officials and the women journalists who cover them share an uncomfortable reality: We are both underrepresented.

The new U.S. Congress includes 20 women out of 100 senators and 84 women out of 435 representatives. Only five of the 50 governors are women. Compared to other nations, we’re in the cellar when it comes to the number of elected women. We trail behind such nations as Honduras, Rwanda, Vietnam and Bosnia.

And research shows equally dismal representation for women journalists at home and abroad. An IWMF study on the global status of women in the media found that women worldwide held only about 36 percent of reporting jobs. Last year’s study by the Women’s Media Center found that, in the United States, male bylines continue to dominate both newspaper front pages and the content of newer online-only sites.

Jennifer Lawless of American University studies why more women don’t run for elected office. Over the years, her research has shown that women often need to be asked, perhaps as many as seven times, before they consider running.

But we don’t have that recruitment problem in journalism.

Women outnumber men in today’s journalism schools. I see that in every class I teach in Georgetown’s graduate journalism program. My last class had 15 women and one man. So why aren’t those numbers reflected in newsrooms?

I don’t have the answer, but I believe more women in leadership would make a difference. Why? Well, read this exchange from a New York Times interview last year with Nina Jacobson, producer of “The Hunger Games.”

“What do you think of the notion that movies with female protagonists are risky box-office bets? Since I’m not allowed to swear, I’ll say I think that’s a lot of bullpucky. I don’t understand why people still behave as though making movies with female protagonists is risky, given that — hello — we do make up over 50 percent of the population, and we go to movies.

“So do you have any idea why this idea persists? Too many white men in positions of power?

“How do you suppose that changes, then? White boys beget white boys. The more women and people of color who find positions of influence, the more women and people of color who will find positions of influence. So we need critical mass, and we’re still working toward that. I won’t be satisfied until we’re at the 50-50 place where we ought to be.”

– Linda Kramer Jenning