Ain’t no Mountain High Enough – The Journey of Women in News Rooms

Ain’t no Mountain High Enough – The Journey of Women in News Rooms

When you are very much loyal to Netflix, it can happen that you miss out some compelling series offered by its competitors. It is the case of Good Girls Revolt, an Amazon Prime original production, which aims at fictionalizing the actual fight starting in March 1970 between the Newsroom journal and the 46 female members of its staff. A fight over gender discrimination.

Leaving aside any consideration on the quality on the series – which has received quite good critiques – we can admit without any doubt that it raises interesting reflections on both the past and present conditions of females in the journalism area.

In fact, with reference to the past, women working in 1970 at Newsroom clipped newspaper stories, checked facts and did research, they were anchored to a lower-paying job – with respect to their male counterparts –  offering few promotion possibilities, and as if this wasn’t enough, they were constantly subject to sexual harassments. For such reasons, 46 women filed a claim to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission –  in both 1970 and 1972 – pressing charges against the magazine’s internal policy, which can be summarized by the statement that was constantly reminded to them: “If you want to be a writer, go somewhere else”. Ultimately, the management agreed on a settlement according to which by 1974 a third of writers would have been female.

A major improvement was felt in 1975, when Lynn Povich – who documented these facts in her book The Good Girls Revolt: How the women of Newsweek sued their bosses and changed the workplace – became the first female senior editor of the magazine and continued fighting for gender equality.

women-menDespite this, almost 40 years later, those issues still persist. In fact, looking at Unesco’s 2014 publication Media and gender: a scholarly agenda for the Global Alliance on Media and Gender, it appears that, globally, there are more women enrolled in university journalisms courses than men. However, when it comes to the workplace, more men make it through the hiring phases than females, indeed women hold only 1/3 of the positions in reporting, ¼ in top management, and ¼ in Board of Directors.

Even though those numbers vary across countries, the final result displaced remains somewhat unchanged everywhere. For example, if we take into consideration Nordic Countries where women are usually at parity with men, as for governance and top management positions the composition allocated to females falls to less than 40%. Eastern European countries seem to be performing better on the top management side, but still fall short when it comes to Board nominations (1/3).

A confirmatory evidence comes from a research funded by the European Institute for Gender Equality analyzing the participation of women in media operational and decision making activities. The results – summarized in the following table – are based on a sample of 99 EU organizations – including public, private and mixed funding media players – and they clearly show the disparity we referred to in the previous paragraph.

The paper also points out another issue: the existence of gender equality plans, diversity policies and codes inside organizations does not automatically result in high numbers of women in decision making positions. This is due to the fact that most of the time those policies are not put into practice, therefore they do not serve at changing the contextual culture of the organization and creating a positive working environment where the value and contributions of women work and efforts are recognized.

To make up for such boardroom disparities, in November 2012 the European Commission has proposed a Directive whose objective is to increase at a 40% level the presence of females in non-executive directorial roles by 2018 for publicly funded companies, whereas by 2020 for publicly listed companies.

To conclude, we can learn two lessons from the 1970 fact and these data. First, we should never settle to some accomplishments when we could strive for more. It is actually true that women are no more excluded from the news profession, but they still hold marginal positions and are underrepresented when it comes to key decision making roles. Second, the road to improvements should be highly encouraged by gender balanced laws at the national and international level.


Ana Radi – Wome in business_Bocconi Female Students Association