Women Underrepresented in Media Across Platforms, Report Finds

From opinion columns to Hollywood entertainers, men continue to eclipse women, a survey finds.

Executive Editor of The New York Times Jill Abramson attends the WIRED Business Conference: Think Bigger at Museum of Jewish Heritage on May 7, 2013, in New York City.

Jill Abramson has served as executive editor of The New York Times since 2011. 

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Statistics back up what one may have suspected by looking at his or her screen, a new report finds. Women – and particularly women of color – continue to be underrepresented in media, according to a Women's Media Center survey published Wednesday.   

“The media is failing women on nearly every platform and the numbers underscore that we need to be better,” says Julie Burton, president of the Women's Media Center. The survey, in its third year, analyzes a swatch of recent data to reach its conclusions.

For all the strides individuals like TV producer Shonda Rhimes and The New York Times editor Jill Abramson have made in breaking various glass ceilings, the report shows that overall trends are far less progressive. Women comprise 36 percent of newspaper staffs, a number that has more or less stagnated for 15 years, according to an American Society of News Editors census cited in the Women's Media Center report. And in some places diversity is actually decreasing. In radio, the percentage women managers dropped to 14 percent from 19.3 percent in 2012.

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The report looks at everything from the number of women bylining major opinion columns (38 women out of the 143 columnists surveyed) to what top female actresses are earning compared to their male counterparts (the highest paid female star, Angelina Jolie, made less than half than the highest paid male actor, Robert Downey Jr.). It draws on the research from a variety of sources including universities, think tanks and even the media gossip blog Gawker. The report also pays special attention to women of color where Burton says, “The numbers are even more dire.”

It finds sport journalism to be particularly homogeneous field, where staffs on sports publications and websites skew 90 percent male and 90 percent white.

“Sports news coverage remains white and male even as female sports and sports fans are surging,” Burton says, citing recent research by the market research firm Scarborough finding that women make up about one-third of the fans among major sports leagues.

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The report also looks at the trickle down consequences of female underrepresentation of the media. For instance, while men were used as sources 3.4 times more often than women in The New York Times Page 1 stories, that disparity shrinks to just twice as likely when a story is bylined by a woman. “

According to Burton, a lack of female voices represented in the media does a disservice to the audience its serving.

“That doesn't tell the whole story and that doesn't reflect our country, which is a diverse country,” she says.

The report finds a few bright spots in an otherwise troubling picture. It credits ESPN and the Sporting News for leading the charge in hiring women to their staffs, with six and two of the female sports editors, respectively, out of the 11 total in the industry. It also applauds MSNBC hosts Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris-Perry for inviting guest panels notably more diverse than their TV news talk show competitors.

Burton says there are a number of steps those in leadership oppositions can do to improve the representation of women in media, from conducting personnel surveys to setting up mentoring programs to looking at work-life balance issues in the workplace. Her organization also keeps a database of female experts in various fields that can be used as sources for news stories.

“What’s the message for girls and women in America?” Burton says. “If you can’t see it you can’t be it.”