Overcoming the obstacles for women in the media sector
by Prini Abraham, Ilyas Sana, Neivein Haddad, Viktoria Wehner, Daniela Pruckner, Sophie Oellerer and Johanna Walk
(In)Equality we trust
Overcoming the obstacles for women in the media sector
The following report addresses gender equality in the media sector in Austria as well as in Europe. For this purpose, the GMMP (Global Media Monitoring Project) and Gender Equality in the Media Sector – Study for the European Parliament, were compared and analyzed. Although these two studies are very different there are still some interesting findings. Both studies show for example that women are overall less visible in media content and only play a central role in 10% of online news stories. Furthermore, only 2% of online news stories highlight issues of gender inequality. Another interesting finding is that women are more likely to be framed as objects rather than subjects of reports or news stories.
In Austria, there are many obstacles to women´s advancement in the media, resulting in major challenges to gender equality. Among other women get reduced to their looks and it´s more difficult for them to work in so called “hard news” departments.
In order to overcome these obstacles in Austria NGO´s push the agenda of gender equality forward, for example „Mediafrauen“ and „Frauennetzwerk“. There is also the „Presserat“, which issues guidelines for the press.
To conclude this article suggests different action proposals. These include a womens-quota for news departments or improved employment contracts regarding equal payment.
Researching the inequalities in the media sector we found two studies to be particularly insightful. The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), the largest and longest longitudinal study on the gender in the world’s media, and a study commissioned by the European Parliament that examines key elements of the European policy agenda pertaining to gender equality in the media sector.
The idea for a media monitoring project was created at the Women Empowering Communication international conference in Bangkok in 1994. Now the portal “Who makes the news” conducts the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) every 5 years.
The “Gender Equality in the Media Sector – Study for the European Parliament” was commissioned by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens‘ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality.
GMMP 2015 vs. 2020
The Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) of 2015 shows that 15% of the identified reporters of internet news stories were female. According to the 2017 study “Women in the Austrian media: working conditions, representation and measures towards gender equality” although, in average Austrian female journalists have higher education, they still earn less money than their male peers.
In 2020 that number rose to 33% and even 40 % in Covid-related topics. In 2015 Twitter news stories were not monitored in the Austrian sample. However, in 2020 50% of 14 identified reports on Twitter were female.
Apart from the operational level, there is a low female average in CEO positions in media organizations in all media forms. Some studies relate the lack of women in higher positions to socialization-factors, this means that women are usually taught not to engage in fights, not to stand up for their interest as much as men do and they have a higher level of tolerance towards things that goes against their personal interest.
GMMP vs. Gender Equality in the Media Sector – Study for the European Parliament
While the GMMP works on a global scale the European Parliament Study focuses its research on four specific EU-Memberstates (Austria, Sweden, Malta & the UK). With the help of volunteers, the GMMP monitors and collects quantitative data from over 100 countries and provides insights into the statistics of gender equality in the media sector. While the EP Study conducts interviews with professional media employees it examines key elements of the European policy agenda pertaining to gender equality and provides analysis of actions to promote equality in the media at both EU and Member State level, in a qualitive manner. Furthermore, the GMMP Data focuses solely on Internet and Twitter News, while the European Parliament Study includes all kinds of Media.
According to the EP Study, women are overall less visible in media content. The GMMP of 2020 also shows that in only 13 % of internet news stories and in 10% of twitter news stories, women play a central role. And Only 4%, respectively 2% of the stories highlight issues of gender inequality. None of the Stories clearly challenge the Gender Stereotypes. In Austria as well as the UK, Malta and Sweden women seem to be more likely framed as objects than subjects of media reports or news stories. One approach in the 2019 “Medienproduktion: Journalismus und Geschlecht“ suggested that this issue can be related to: 1) male dominated journalistic standards. 2) few networking options for women. 3) non-transparent personnel decisions.
Regarding women in the media work force, the GMMP doesn’t provide informative research, therefore we must rely on the results of the EP Study. They show that in 2017 women made up the majority of decision-makers in public broadcasters in Sweden, while in the other three case study countries (including Austria) they stay in the minority. All interviewed respondents noted that men continue to dominate senior, decision-making roles across media industries. Direct as well as indirect discrimination against women is a key factor in all four countries. Across all countries, the importance of leadership and women’s professional networks in individual companies can be noted as highly influencing gender parity. In Sweden, discriminatory and harassing behavior once widely spread has changed after the #MeToo campaign. Also, in Austria and the UK respondents described progress toward greater gender equality although this was viewed as insufficient and constant vigilance is required to protect those recent gains.
Major challenges to gender equality
In Austria, there are still many key obstacles to women’s advancement in the media, resulting in major challenges to gender equality.
Women get reduced to their looks when it comes to their success in the media sector. A big obstacle for women is
the topics they are most likely to cover – even though in politics in general women are on the rise. The current government consists 53% women, the largest women’s quota in Austrian history. Women rarely get the chance to work on important topics such as finances or politics. Their capability gets reduced and they do not get the equal respect which they deserve from their male counterparts. Women face way more threats and abuse than their male colleagues. And when the broadcasting is about a woman, their private life and looks matter more than the actual issue. In summary, women face a lot of obstacles on their way of success in the media sector and as long as they are not seen as an equal to their male colleagues those changes will have to wait.
There is still much ongoing discrimination, whether it is direct or indirect. The so-called glass ceiling is one of them, meaning that there is an invisible barrier that women cannot pass career wise. Also, tradition plays a huge role in women’s discrimination. Austria is a catholic, quite traditional-based country; therefore women are seen as mothers and wives, not as career driven like men are. Consequently, women have not had high-achieving career paths in the past, so why change the tradition now?
Age is an important factor as well, especially on television. The older a woman is the bigger the chance that they will not be shown on TV again. This fits perfectly into the stereotype of women having to look young and fresh, but men do not. So as soon as a woman gets too old – in the eyes of the producers or audience – she will be removed off the screen.
The previously mentioned tradition in Austria is also a reason for the discrimination of women in the aspect of maternity leave. It’s easy for women to withdraw from the workforce when they become mothers, but this sets a disadvantage for women as soon as the protected period ends. There also is evidence for backlash against women, who pursue their legal entitlements, stating that they are taking advantage or are lazy.
Furthermore, something as simple as communication plays a big role as well. Communication at work is often dominated by men, they tend to talk louder and for longer and don’t let themselves be interrupted, whilst women tend to stop talking if someone interrupts them.
Lastly, time management is another obstacle, since many women have responsibilities outside of work as well, e.g. mothers and childcare, whilst men are usually completely focused on work. – This is now more relevant than ever since the current COVID19 crisis is a challenge to everyone, but especially for women working their regular job from home who have to home school their children at the same time and do work in the household. – Therefore, women simply do not have time to work around the clock or attend evening meetings, whilst many men can.
Overcoming the Obstacles
The actions, efforts, programs which were most successful in challenging inequalities and overcoming barriers in the countries observed in Europe are for example the access to lists of experts as potential interviewers, which were created to increase the diversity of experts in news media. Women, who were working in these sectors, get a support when they return to work. Also, quotas were used to improve the gender equality. Of course, there are NGO´s which push the agenda on gender equality forward and successful challenges inequalities. The most important organizations for women, in journalism area, include „Medienfrauen“ and „Frauennetzwerk“. Both support women to advance their careers by providing a professional network and other forms of support. Since guidelines to the press, which are issued by the Presserat, are voluntary, meaning media are not obliged to join, most tabloids take no action to follow them. Similarly, the Werberat follows an ethics code aimed in particular at reducing discrimination against gender. However, these efforts cannot fully be counted as successful since neither one of these institutions can declare heavy sanctions against violations. A successful example seems to be ORF’s “gender equality plan”, which includes strategies to improves several fields such as achieving a good work-life balance for all employees. Generally, it is agreed upon that the public broadcaster reaches higher standards than private broadcasters. Also, most people think that a better gender equality in the media workforce would have more positive quality of media and a wider society.
These previously mentioned efforts are already a great step into the right direction, but there needs to be done. Gender equality is improving but the complete equality still is not given. Some possible action proposals on challenging inequalities in the Austrian media could be the following:
There are usually less women in the hard news resorts – like politics or economy – so a women’s quota for these topics would help with the equal distribution of resorts and would help women to work in the job they want and not be hindered by their gender.
Women get reduced to their looks, especially in front of the camera. They should be allowed to stay in front of the camera until retirement, so there should be reassurances in their contract to actually do their job until retirement and not be discriminated against based on their age.
Regarding parental leave, there should be equal conditions and benefits for men as for women, because even though paternal leave is already possible for parents nowadays many men do not want to take their leave because the current conditions are not as good as they are for women – and partly because it is still considered unmanly to make use of their parental leave.
Furthermore, equal conditions in contracts are key to equality, especially regarding the payment. It should not be considered normal nowadays that women still earn less than men, even though they work the exact some job and exact same hours.
The UK set a good example tackling these kinds of discrimination through an Equality Council at the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). They stand for inclusion and equality and people can go there to get help, whether they are discriminated against based on their age, gender, sexual orientation, or they get paid less.
 Keil S., Dorer J. (2019) Medienproduktion: Journalismus und Geschlecht. In: Dorer J., Geiger B., Hipfl B., Ratković V. (eds) Handbuch Medien und Geschlecht
 National Union of Journalists: https://www.nuj.org.uk/rights/equality/