Obstacles Facing Women Journalists p. 12

By: DEBRA GERSH HERNANDEZ THERE ARE APPARENTLY few women who will be surprised by the findings of a new report about attitudes towards women in the media.
"The results of this survey confirmed what we had heard from women media professionals all over the world ? that despite more women attending journalism schools, a greater awareness about discrimination, and efforts at increasing diversity in the workplace ? they are still facing enormous obstacles to equal employment and equal treatment," the report noted.
Prepared by the International Women's Media Foundation, the report, "Women in the Media: Facing Obstacles . . . Changing Attitudes," is based on survey responses from women journalists at last year's United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and from IWMF members in over 40 countries.
Nearly all (93%) of the respondents from around the world said they believe they face obstacles their male counterparts do not, with the biggest obstacle being balancing work and family ? and women do not want to be forced to choose between them.
Further, that balancing act has led some women to believe that "because of their family obligations, they are being passed up by younger journalists who have fewer demands on their time and finances," according to the report.
Additional problems mentioned by the respondents included the lack of role models and mentors, the latter perhaps the fault of women themselves, who may not have the time or who are concerned about competition for limited "women's positions" in upper management.
Discrimination, "still pervasive in many media companies in every country in the world," was broken out in the report into issues of salary, access to jobs, access to information, harassment and negative attitudes.
One of "the most blatant forms of discrimination women journalists face," according to the IWMF, is not being paid the same as men for equal work.
While the report found that half the respondents did not believe they were being paid less, those who did were forced to do so because of necessity or competition.
Access to information was another hurdle cited by respondents, particularly in light of the lack of women mentors and the scarcity of women's "grapevines."
Another form of discrimination outlined by the IWMF report was women's lack of access to jobs.
"Women who are employed in the media are more likely to be found in administrative positions rather than as reporters, anchors, technicians or in management," according to the report.
"Even within the management ranks, women at the top tend to be in administrative management positions, such as financing, rather than in positions that directly affect the news."
Survey respondents also said they were "frustrated at being denied access to covering issues like science and technology, politics, and business."
"Despite their areas of expertise and interests, many women journalists find themselves assigned to covering 'soft topics' such as fashion and entertainment," the IWMF reported, adding that women also "often feel that their male colleagues get the best assignments ? covering the most visible, controversial, newsworthy stories, and that women journalists are ultimately denied access to opportunities that could further their careers."
A further obstacle cited by the women surveyed was the difficulty they faced in combating stereotyping and social attitudes that lead to discrimination.
But even when they overcome these hurdles, the respondents said they see their accomplishments downplayed, some specifically pointing to the backlash they encounter by colleagues who are threatened by their success.
Women employed by the media also blamed the media for playing a role "in perpetuating and reinforcing negative stereotypes about women and their potential capabilities," the IWMF reported.
In fact, nearly two-thirds (64%) of the women journalists surveyed said they believe that the media's portrayal of women is inaccurate. A quarter (25%) said they thought it was accurate, while 11% responded "sometimes."
Although there were few solid suggestions for change, respondents generally believed "that once greater equality for women was reached in the media and society as a whole, women ? who make up at least half of the potential media market ? will demand to see and hear represented all of their various images."
"Many of the survey respondents agree with the position that if women were in higher positions in the media, they would make decisions to portray women differently," according to the report.
The IWMF report was not all criticism, however. It also offered some solutions, as suggested by the women surveyed.
Among the recommendations were:
? Mentoring. The report noted that "mentoring is essential" and encouraged media companies and women's media organizations to develop programs providing "encouragement and incentives for women to take on a mentor."
? Training. The IWMF cited continued education, training and access to information as "vital to women's competitiveness in the ever-evolving mass media realm." Already facing constraints on their time, women often have difficulty scheduling additional education and training, which often are important to career success.
? Organizing and Networking. Organizations designed for women that offer networking and mentoring opportunities often face financial difficulties, the IWMF reported, noting, however, that there are support programs that do exist.
? Legislating. The IWMF report stressed the importance of strengthening legal mechanisms, such as anti-discrimination and affirmative action laws, and seeing that they are enforced.
"The future for women in the media depends on women committed to a long-term effort and working together to provide support through mentoring, sharing and learning," the report concluded. "When the needs of women journalists for equal access and equal opportunity are met ? in whatever roles they play ? they will move from being untapped resources to becoming true assets to their companies, their industry and their communities."


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