Women in News: old boy’s club culture prevails even when parity is reached

Lessons from a major new study on South African media houses shows that even when women and men are equal, in numbers, inequity and sexism remain. Author Glenda Daniels reports.

by WAN-IFRA External Contributor | October 26, 2018

One of the most glaring findings in Glass Ceilings: Women in SA media houses in 2018 is that it’s not about the numbers game anymore – as women and men seem to have reached parity – although in the most senior positions it’s still males who dominate. However, the stories of being bullied, undermined and the old boys club have the same resonances as in previous research findings by South African National Editor’s Forum (Sanef) and Gender Links who jointly undertook this research and a similar study about ten years ago. The study was funded by the Media Diversity and Development Agency (MDDA).

Even though there are almost 50/50 women and men in the newsroom, there are very few women on boards of mainstream media companies and no black women ownership of commercial media companies.

In 2018, after about a year of research done via an online survey with 203 participants responding, and 59 media companies covering 10 054 staff, together with ten in-depth interviews with women in the newsroom telling their stories or experiences of sexism in the newsroom, we found the following:

An increasing salary gap between male and female journalists, subtle and overt sexism, being undermined and ignored for promotion, bullying (in the newsroom and on social media), exclusion from “the boys club” and decision making, “paying the family penalty” i.e. having children, with no family-friendly practices in the media houses, are just some of the backlashes women journalists reveal in the biggest Glass Ceilings research in South Africa to date.

Besides the numbers between women and men in the media being equalled out for the first time, it was also the first time there was a percentage of people who identified themselves as gender non-conforming and for the first time, there is a chapter on cyber misogyny. In this chapter, one of South Africa’s most well-known women editors, Ferial Haffajee, tells and shows via pictures how the bots trolled her after she wrote stories on Zuma/Gupta corruption.

The research was done in the context of media freedom all over the world being under threat. Violence and deaths against journalists are increasing, and women are the most vulnerable. One woman in the book told her story of how she was threatened to be killed if she didn’t toe the line (if she didn’t tell Zuma friendly stories), another told of how she was told to wear short skirts and high heels to get the story.

Sexism is alive and well in South African newsrooms and taking ugly forms in the digital era. While there have been dramatic shifts in the race and gender composition of the media since the first Glass Ceiling black women are still not fairly represented in media decision-making; the pay gap is widening, especially in the age of digitisation; and the old boys’ network is alive and well.

In the #MeToo and #TotalShutDown era, the conversation is moving beyond numbers, to the underlying patriarchal norms that fuel sexist attitudes, harassment and its newest ugly form – cyber misogyny. One of the key messages is that #TimesUp for the South African media and #TimeisNow to walk the talk of gender equality.

Black men now comprise half of top media managers. The proportion of black women in top media management has increased fivefold but is still 20 percentage points lower than black men. Black women, who comprise 46% of the population, constitute 40% of senior managers in the media, suggesting that change is on the way.

The findings come at a turbulent time. With new media forms sweeping across the landscape, South Africa fits into the global media pattern of traumatic job losses according to the international New Beats (and Job losses) project which is currently underway and based in Melbourne, Australia. In tandem with the job losses, there exists messy digitisation processes, as the huge downturn in advertising revenue and a decline in sales and circulation continues apace. It is in this climate of fear and uncertainty that the Glass Ceilings research took place, and given this, it’s heartening that so responded to the call to participate.

Key trends and recommendations

Gender parity is a reality in the overall composition South African media houses: At 49% there are nearly equal proportions of women and men in South African media houses compared to the SADC region which recorded 41% women in the media in 2015.

Some respondents identified themselves as “other” for the first time: The other 2% comprises staff who identified themselves as others (gender non-conforming persons). This is the first time that this parameter has been measured in the Glass Ceiling Study. The fact that 2% of staff are not identified as male or female is itself an indicator of progress over the last decade.

The bigger media houses have all achieved the 50% mark overall: A total of 24 of the media houses surveyed have between 50%-85% women: Media 24 has 57% women, Tiso Black Star (54%); Mail & Guardian (52%) and the SABC (50%).

Increase but still no parity at management level: Between 2009 and 2018, there has been an increase in women in senior management from 35% to 46% and in top management from 25% to 36%. Women (47%) and men (41%) attributed the gender gap to men being taken more seriously than women. Women (39%) and men (26%) felt that women are by-passed in promotion processes. Women (35%) and men (28%) attributed this to the old boys’ network.

The proportion of white men in top management has dropped but is still more than double that of white women: White men, who constituted 46% of top media managers in 2006, have dropped to 14% in 2018. White women in top management have dropped from 23% to 6% over the same period. But there are still more than double the proportion of white men (14%) to white women (6%) in top management in the media.

Black men are moving up the ranks at a much faster pace than black women: The proportion of black men in top management in the media has more than doubled from 22% in 2006 to 50% in 2018. The proportion of black women in top management has gone up fivefold, from 6% in 2006 to 30% in 2018, but this is still twenty percentage points lower than for black men. Black women (30% in top management compared to 46% of the population) are grossly under-represented. The gap is beginning to narrow for black women at senior management level, where they comprise 40% of the total.

There has been an increase in women middle managers, but decline in skilled professionals: Women middle managers such as assistant editors, news presenters/ anchors, correspondents, designers and producers) have increased from 47% to 52%. However, there has been a decline in women skilled technical and academically qualified workers (such as reporters and sub-editors) from 51% to 38%. This may reflect the general decimation of these core foot soldiers as new media takes over the mainstream media.

The gender pay gap appears to be widening: In the three media houses that provided data, the pay gap between women and men in 2018 at 23% is higher than in 2009 (17%). This may in part reflect the “eroded middle” in which women tend to predominate in the new media era, with the structure of media increasingly dominated by a few top executives, and a large number of junior staff responsible for social media.

Policies do not promote equal sharing of responsibilities in the home: 81% of the media houses said they have maternity leave, compared to only 31% with paternity leave policies.

Sexual harassment is a daily reality for women in the media, but is not prioritised: In 2018, 87% of media houses said they had sexual harassment policies, compared to 82% in 2009. Almost all media houses (91%) reported dealing with sexual harassment cases. Countless first-hand accounts in the report attest to sexist attitudes and practices at work and in the field. The SABC has set up a commission of inquiry into sexual harassment.

Cyber misogyny is a growing threat: While only 6% of official respondents felt cyber misogyny is an issue in South Africa, 30% women and 9% men agreed that women journalists experience cyber violence. The first-hand account by Ferial Haffajee, a former chair of Sanef, and one of South Africa’s most senior women editors, is chilling testimony to gender violence in the media. Cyber misogyny may just be emerging, but like the speed of the social media that spawned it, is guaranteed to spiral out of control if not addressed seriously.

A new breed of young media women are asserting their rights: The Glass Ceilings 2018 reflects both a feminist backlash, and an increased anger and assertiveness by women in the media against sexism, which may be the result of the general zeitgeist of the times globally and nationally.

Key recommendations include greater ownership and control of the media by women, especially black women; all media adopting gender and diversity policies; setting targets for achieving parity at all levels; banning sexism; calling out “mansplaining”; revealing and closing the gender wage gap; opening spaces for women to speak out; family-friendly practices; self-monitoring and reporting.

Author note: Glenda Daniels is chair of Sanef’s diversity and ethics subcommittee and is associate professor at Media Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, SA.

Photo, from the cover of the report, by Zoto Razanadratefa.

WAN-IFRA External Contributor

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