Nieman Foundation at Harvard
“Journalism moves fast…philanthropy moves slow.” Press Forward’s director wants to bring them together
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March 8, 2021, 3:02 p.m.

Does this headline sound familiar? I wrote a similar one last International Women’s Day. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s second annual study about women in leadership in the news industry shows little overall progress was made in the past year.

The study collected data from 12 countries that have varied rankings in the United Nations Gender Inequality Index. Those countries are: Kenya, South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Finland, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, Mexico, the United States, and Brazil. Kenya and Spain were new additions to the 2021 study.

(It’s worth noting, as we did last year, 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 study surveyed the top 10 TV, radio, print, and online news outlets in each country, totaling about 240, though it doesn’t disclose the names of the news organizations included or the editors.

Just 22% of the 180 top editors across the 240 outlets studied are women even though 40% of journalists in the 12 countries are women. There was no change among the 10 countries that were studied last year, meaning that 23% of top editors in the previous sampling were women. In every country except South Africa, the majority of top editors are men. In Japan, no outlet included in the study has a female editor.

The report concluded that despite the fact that 2020 forced a reckoning, especially in the United States, about the lack of diversity, inclusion, and equity in the news industry, there hasn’t been any major change in leadership. The study was conducted in February 2021, and at least in the United States, several top editor positions at major publications are open right now, which could lead to an increase in the number of top female editors in 2022. After South Africa (where 60% of the top editors of the publications included are women), the United States is closest to gender parity at 47%.

Whilst the last year has seen an increasing reckoning with the frequent lack of diversity in newsrooms, especially in top positions, we find no clear overall trend towards greater gender equality in top editorial positions from 2020 to 2021. While there are more women (16%) among the 37 new names in our dataset than among those who held the same posts last year (14%), the number is still comparatively low.

So despite greater focus on diversity, we find no significant evidence of change. This, of course, often takes time, and with the severe impact of the coronavirus pandemic, lockdowns and among many other things a consequent wave of layoffs at many news media, the past year has been unusual and unusually demanding in many ways. Perhaps there is more to come? Several important news brands will be appointing new top editors in the year ahead, many journalists are pushing for more diverse leadership, and some news media are publicly recognising how they have fallen short on diversity for a long time. We will know more about how this might change the overall profile when we repeat this analysis in 2022 to track developments in gender equality among top editors across the world.

Read the full report in English here and in Spanish here.


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