Recently, the planet Venus was in transit – an astronomical occurrence that happens very rarely. Symbolically, this means that the age of female/male polarity is at a close. Some say that it will bring the highest state of spiritual evolution – ‘true androgyny’. But, you may be thinking, this has nothing to do with the state of South Africa’s media; however the principle of transcending the gender binary is an ideal for which the media world should really prioritise.
In the past the focus has been on elevating females into positions of power – as editors, as publishers, as board members – for the sake of gender parity: a political term bandied about with little meaning in the ‘real’ world, where women are still under-represented in key decision-making roles.
Indeed, the issues of gender disparity in the media workplace are real. The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) concluded a two year-study with a hard fact: women are still under-represented in the majority of newsrooms across the globe. ‘Newsrooms’ refer to all media sectors: news media ownership, publishing, governance, reporting, editing, photojournalism, and broadcast production. Beyond the employees, it was also revealed that women are as under-represented in the news agenda: only 22% of sources used and quoted were female.
Now South Africa has made significant strides. Not only are there more women editors than ever before but they are also editing high-profile publications. Nevertheless it has been suggested that the 30% of women represented in senior leadership in the media sector be increased to 50% in three years’ time.
Surely, instead of achieving this set notion of gender parity, we should break through it?
Jos Kuper, media research specialist, says it is assumed that representation of women is necessary for diversity purposes, but the real need in management and on boards is 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,” she said.
For the media, the future lies in creating products that relegate the idea of gender divergence to the past and promote gender convergence in things like management decision-making, copytasting, writing style, headline language and representativeness in sources and pictures.
The ideas of ‘integration’ and ‘union’ are well documented in other areas of the media business: digital and so-called traditional mediums are converging to offer consumers choice and a better user experience. Gone are the days when a newspaper is just a black and white paper object read by your dad at breakfast. Successful newspaper business models tend to be those that sell their printed versions, but have an online presence with enhanced, interactive features.
Kuper asserted in The Media magazine: “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.”
Instead of thinking ‘more female’ voices, the goal should be diversity – race, language, background and gender. “We’ve moved beyond the idea of specific percentages of women in senior positions. We think of it in terms of bringing different perspectives to the tricky business of media. Media is about actively engaging consumers and the board should be representative of the consumer landscape,” said Sandra Gordon, founder of the 1st for Women Insurance Brokers’ Women in the Media Awards, which celebrates its 10 year anniversary this year.
She notes that the women who are the finalists in this year’s awards – Esmare Weideman, Ferial Haffajee and Terry Volkwyn – have not only been recognised because they are female and thus historically disadvantaged, but because as people, they have added immensely to the media landscape and to our fledgling democracy.
“These women have shown that the female leadership factor encourages varied views and perspectives and that this informs economic and financial success for the organisations they lead,” said Gordon.
Meanwhile, they say that the transit of Venus is not overly yin and not overly yang – it is a symbol of perfect balance. As the astrologer Anita Noyes Smith says: “We are entering a new era…feminine qualities are going to transcend into wholeness and integrate those of the masculine (the sun).”
“Haffajee, Weideman and Volkwyn are powerful agents of change – cosmic forces, if you will,” said Gordon.