Gender News Gap report highlights need for more diversity in UK newsrooms

A new survey has found that fewer than one in five (19 per cent) female reporters believe there is adequate gender diversity in UK journalism.

Claire Mason, founder and CEO of Man Bites Dog
Claire Mason, founder and CEO of Man Bites Dog

Research carried out by Women in Journalism (WiJ) and consultancy Man Bites Dog surveyed 1,200 UK journalists on gender diversity in the profession and its impact on female journalists, the media and society more broadly.

While 96 per cent of journalists believe the media has a duty to reflect the diversity of the society it serves, the Gender News Gap study identifies some of the greatest challenges facing women in journalism. This includes access to the profession and career progression, with 73 per cent of UK journalists believing these are more difficult for women than men.

Leadership plays a significant role, with 70 per cent of female journalists complaining that the most senior roles remain dominated by men. Male and female journalists also call out a “macho and intimidating culture” that creates what the report describes as a “glass newsroom” that excludes women from “high-status” journalism specialisms such as hard news, business, finance and politics.

The report also found that the coronavirus pandemic has compounded the challenges facing women in journalism, as they have taken on greater domestic duties at the expense of their careers and mental health. Female journalists were also more likely to be furloughed during the crisis.

Online harassment remains a challenge for most UK journalists: 41 per cent have experienced online hate in response to posting their work, and 68 per cent of women in journalism hesitate before posting work online due to fear of subsequent abuse. Perhaps as a result of this harassment, just over half (55 per cent) of female journalists are comfortable with a public profile as a commentator on their specialist subject, compared with two-thirds (67 per cent) of male journalists.

WiJ chair, Daily Mirror editor Alison Phillips, said: “Women in Journalism campaigned for almost 30 years for representative gender balance and diversity in our industry through our workshops, research and panel events. And yet our survey exposes the shocking truth that the gender gap in journalism stubbornly persists.

“The media is the prism through which the world sees itself. For it to be fair and accurate we need all kinds of people from a host of diverse backgrounds telling all sorts of stories. That makes great journalism.”

Man Bites Dog founder and chief executive Claire Mason said: “Equality in journalism is a critical foundation for a more equal society. Public opinion and policy are shaped by the people who decide which stories are told and who tells them.

“The Gender News Gap directly impacts how women and diverse communities are represented, how our experiences and concerns are reflected, and how we make our voices heard to create change. It is critical that the media industry takes action to address the gender gap in journalism and expert contributors if we are to have an equal say in the future of our society.”

According to the report, more than four out of five women in journalism, female journalists and expert authorities highlight issues that would otherwise be underrepresented, and 96 per cent of UK journalists believe that visible female experts can inspire women to enter professions and sectors where they may be currently underrepresented.

Despite this, just 28 per cent of journalists report that their organisation has set targets to improve the representation of female expert contributors, and less than a quarter (23 per cent) of media directors participating in the survey said their organisation measures the gender or ethnic diversity of their journalist workforce.

In 2018, Mason addressed the House of Commons on evidence of the lack of female expert contributors consulted by the media in a broad overall campaign about increasing the visibility of women and diverse experts entitled the Gender Say Gap.

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