President Barack Obama has spent the last month nominating a slew of men to key cabinet jobs, including the new secretary of state, treasury, and defense. His advisors include so many men—and a recent photo from the Oval Office evidences this—that the New York Times published a lengthy piece this month on the "all-male look" of his inner circle.
On Thursday Obama was scheduled to nominate a woman to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, but some other key nominations remain, including the next chair of the Federal Communications Commission. And political activists Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem are keen to make sure that position goes to a woman.
The FCC, which oversees the country's telecommunications and media policy, has never had a female chair in its 80-year history.
"The FCC is supposed to represent the American public. Half the public are women," write Fonda, Steinem and Morgan, who founded the Women's Media Center to promote diversity in media, in a petition on Change.org. "It's long past the time to close the gender gap in our nation's leadership and in the media and telecom industries' leadership."
According to data from the FCC, women today own only six percent of all broadcast licenses. (Decades ago, those licenses went exclusively to white men.) The Women's Media Center's 2012 Status of Women in the U.S. Media Report found that in 2011 only 18 percent of radio news directors and 28 percent of TV news directors were women.
Julie Burton, the center's president, tells Whispers she thinks the FCC hasn't been doing enough in recent years to encourage gender diversity in media. "The FCC oversees competition in media and oversees diversity, and they are falling short on that," she says. "I would like to see them make a concerted effort to expand ownership of radio and TV licenses for women...because if you own the airwaves you own the messages on those airwaves."
Ethnic news coalition New America Media says the problem extends to people of color as well.
In an op-ed published on their web site Thursday, New America Media said the legacy of current FCC chair Julius Genachowski would be "ignoring diversity." Much of the critiques of Genachowski's tenure center around a proposed plan for more media consolidation in local markets, which ostensibly would shut out TV station owners who are women or people of color.
The FCC declined to speak on the record for this story. But under Genachowski, the agency appears to have taken some baby steps toward diversity. In November 2012, for example, the FCC announced it was expanding low power radio opportunities for "diverse media voices," by allowing communities and organizations to operate those stations.
But media reform nonprofit Free Press, a vocal critic of the FCC's efforts on diversity, said the move wasn't enough.
"[It] doesn't answer our critique," Matt Wood, policy director for Free Press, told trade publication Adweek at the time. "The FCC is saying 'look over here' while ignoring the powerful impact the media ownership rules have on diversity."