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March 9, 2020, 1:13 p.m.

Happy International Women’s Day! Less than a third of the top editors at major news outlets around the world are women

“There are fewer women in top roles than there are women in the profession as a whole — in line with previous research documenting vertical segregation in the news industry.”

Sunday was International Women’s Day, and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism used the occasion to publish some disappointing findings for my half of the population: Women are still very much underrepresented in newsroom leadership in 10 major news markets around the world.

RISJ collected data from 200 news outlets — the most popular 10 digital and 10 print/TV/radio in each of 10 countries. (Namely: South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Mexico, the United States, and Brazil. The outlets were selected based on what share of each country’s audience used each outlet.)

From that sample, it found that only 23 percent of the top editors are women — even though, on average, 40 percent of journalists in those markets are women. That’s 38 women editors out of the study’s 162 total. (It’s only 162 because some digital and legacy outlets share the same editor, like The New York Times in print and online.)

In Japan, a country known for constrained gender roles, the number of women top editors is…zero. Meanwhile, the best performer was South African, where 8 of the 17 top editors are women.

“While there is a strong and positive correlation between the percentage of women working as journalists and the percentage of women among top editors, there are fewer women in top roles than there are women in the profession as a whole — in line with previous research documenting vertical segregation in the news industry,” the report says.

The authors — Simge Andı, Meera Selva, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen — compared their findings to how each country fared on gender matters overall, via data from the UN’s Gender Inequality Index.

“We also find no meaningful correlation between overall gender equality in society and the percentage of women among top editors, underlining that there are specific dynamics at play in journalism and the news media,” according to the report. In fact, it even found a modest but negative relationship — a higher rating in the UN index correlates weakly with a lower percentage of top female editors.

(It’s worth noting that the UN index is not without its critics; for example, it includes as inputs numbers, like maternal mortality rates, that are deeply intertwined with a country’s relative wealth, not just its gender standards.)

The performance of the United States is a bit better than what some other surveys have found. A CJR analysis in 2018 found only 27 percent of top newspaper editors (at papers with at least 50,000 circulation) in the U.S. were women. ASNE’s annual newsroom diversity survey found in 2018 that women made up the majority of a newsroom’s leaders in only 21.9 percent of news orgs surveyed. Looking only at news organizations’ top three leaders, 22.7 percent had not even a single woman among them — versus just 8.8 percent for men. Nieman Reports has been covering this issue for a long time.

Last year’s Women’s Media Center report found wide disparities between men and women at the beat level, with men overrepresented in areas that tend to produce future newsroom leaders. Of 17 beats analyzed, women had the greater share of bylines in just two at major U.S. newspapers: health and lifestyle/leisure stories.

The difference likely comes down to different definitions of “top editors”; the RISJ analysis includes more broadcast outlets than many other studies do, for instance. Unfortunately, the authors aren’t publishing their full dataset yet, so it’s hard to make direct comparisons.

The report specifies that “correlation does not necessarily entail causation, but it is clear that markets with more women working in journalism also have considerably more women in top editorial positions. Despite this, in nine out of ten markets, there are significantly more women working as journalists than there are women among top editors. (The United States is the only exception to this.)”

If you’re looking for ways to elevate women in your newsroom, Christa Scharfenberg, the CEO of the Center for Investigative Reporting, crowd-sourced a list of 12 tips for her Nieman Lab 2020 prediction. That includes hiring more women as full-time journalists, not laying off skilled senior women, and assigning more women to “hard news” beats.

You can read the full report in English here and in Spanish here.

Photo of marchers marking International Women’s Day in Brussels March 8, 2020, by Bartosz Brzezinski used under a Creative Commons license.

Hanaa' Tameez is a staff writer at Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email ( or Twitter DM (@HanaaTameez).
POSTED     March 9, 2020, 1:13 p.m.
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