Women are under-represented in the media industry’s boards and at senior management level, but does this detract from the success of the industry? Beth Shirley finds out.
If you open the most recent annual and integrated reports of listed media companies – including Naspers, Media24, MultiChoice, Avusa, Caxton and CTP – the photographs of the boards of directors are mostly of men (usually over the age of 50). The split between black and white is more or less equal, but the women – usually one or two out of 13 – look like the odd ones out.
This obvious evidence is backed up by research conducted by Gender Links in most media houses – listed or not – in South Africa. Their research, entitled ‘The Glass Ceiling Study’, reveals that while women account for half of the staff in South African media houses, they remain under-represented on boards as well as top and senior management. The study’s statistics show that media boards are made up of 38% women, with top management at 25% and senior management at 35%. At Avusa, for instance, its top management comprises only 10% of women, with 15% on the board. Media24 is only just better, with 16% of the board being women.
The Gender Links report cites that “media houses have not created gender-friendly environments”, and that the under-representation of women relates to the multiple roles and responsibilities they juggle – children or domestic responsibilities and work obligations. And their business environment is not as sensitive to their lives as it should be, according to the research. “Workplaces should have policies and practices in place to support women in their multiple roles.”
Does this skewed institutional composition really affect the industry? Are the stories published affected? Does it impact on the number of female sources used in reports, the news agenda, promotional opportunities, overall success and transformation?
Primedia Broadcasting CEO Terry Volkwyn says that unequal representation in management and on boards means “issues championed by women and brought to the table are shoved aside”. Volkwyn says that in her experience, women are better represented in management, but not on boards. “Women understand the concept of ‘having a core purpose’ and make the driving force to success, instead of concentrating on numbers only,” she says.
Volkwyn notes that female managers and board members not only champion the ’softer’ corporate social responsibility issues, but approach management and leadership differently. “They also generally have a better ‘inner working life’ [women can integrate the human element with the business drive for profit] and are motivated to really make a difference in all that they do,” she adds.
Her sentiments are widely shared by world-renowned gender activists, like US-based Dr Alice Eagly, whose international studies in the media industry show that women are more likely than men to possess the leadership qualities associated with success. “That is, women are more transformational than men and care more about developing their followers. They listen to them and stimulate them to think ‘outside the box’ and are more ethical.” What’s more, Eagly thinks this style of leadership is much more suitable to the 21st century.
Media research specialist, Jos Kuper, says it is assumed that the representation of women is necessary for diversity purposes, but the real need for gender parity in management and on boards is the opportunity for ‘convergence’. “The irony is that while female representation is seen as politically correct, the real imperative is to ensure convergence of values rather than divergence.”
Kuper feels that everything produced or thought up by media houses should really be a result of the combined thinking of both genders: “Media products (newspapers, strategies, etc.) should blur the divide between men and women,” she says. For publications, the future lies in creating products that relegate the idea of gender divergence to the past and promote gender convergence in copy-tasting, writing style, headline language and representativeness in sources, pictures and graphics, she says.
“This will ensure a healthy competitive future for any media company as the digital and paper worlds evolve and converge on a number of levels. Business is so complex these days that we have grown into an era of integration of competencies arising from the different experiences of genders, race groups and ages. The traditional ‘lantern-jawed’ male hero at the apex of the pyramid is no longer enough – we need to pool competencies and reflect this in all aspects of the organisation,” Kuper says.
She notes that one of the dangers of a lack of representivity of women (whether on boards or in the newsroom, editorial teams or content hubs) is that traditional male language and sources continue to reign supreme. Women will tend to use more female sources than men, and also to use less ’battlespeak’ in areas like business and finance.
MEC Global CEO Michelle Meyjes agrees, and suggests that instead of defining representation on boards in terms of the split between men and women, it should encompass the idea of involving diverse voices: “I think the goal should be to generally increase the overall diversity represented on boards. This is not about specific percentages of women only but really about equal opportunities for all, as I firmly believe that an overall diversity contributes to the performance and success of a business. It’s all about bringing different perspectives to the running of a business. The media business is about actively engaging consumers, and the board should be representative of the consumer landscape.”
Adds Kuper: “It is outdated to characterise men as thinkers and women as feelers, with stories reflecting a hard edge for the former and a soft edge for the latter. But a great deal of research has shown that these are mistaken characterisations and are not borne out in media patterns. In fact, narrow strictures of this nature practically ensure a medium’s demise – it is a healthy organisation where its players and audiences can choose to converge around certain issues and diverge around others.”
Yet, Gender Links finds that there are no specific targets and practices to fast-track promotions or achieve gender parity in South African media houses. Few, the research infers, have gender policies. “Those policies in media houses are limited to the employment of men and women on an equitable basis.”
According to academic and media guru Professor Govin Reddy, there is “no excuse” for the under-representation of women on media boards and in management. “There is no shortage of qualified women in this field [media industry], so there is less excuse for the extent of under-representation of women in positions of power.” Women are urged by Reddy and Volkwyn to overcome obstacles and “push a little harder”, what with all the challenges and archaic perceptions that abound in the industry.
IMAGE: US photographer, Jill Greenberg, did a series of photographs called The Glass Ceiling. http://www.doobybrain.com/2011/05/22/the-glass-ceiling-by-jill-greenberg/
Follow Beth Shirly on Twitter @BethShirleyLife
This story was first published in The Media magazine.