At a time when women head fewer major U.S. newspapers than they did 10 years ago, there is a place where women run not only some of the nation’s leading papers but the major public TV station and private TV and radio stations, too. In fact, some media leaders and members of the public even feel journalism here needs more men.

This land of female empowerment is not Sweden, Finland, or Norway, home to some of the world’s parent-friendliest policies regarding childcare and maternity leave.

No. When it comes to the state of women in media leadership today, the best place in the world to be a female looking to rise in management is … Bulgaria.

Elsewhere, women aren’t in charge in large numbers because they’ve been discriminated against in ways both explicit and unintentional, because they’ve been labeled too brusque or too weak, because they’ve opted out to raise children. In Bulgaria, women are in charge because journalism has never been taken all that seriously. Under Communist rule, the press was heavily censored and journalism jobs paid little. Today, the mainstream media focuses on tabloid-ish content: entertainment, celebrity news, and scandal.

Related Article
A Seat at the Table
By Ann Marie Lipinski

In Bulgaria, journalism is a low-status profession. Worldwide, though, even in places where the Fourth Estate is considered a vital part of public discourse, the statistics tell a troubling story, one of progress halted and even eroded. Despite making up half the population, and more than half of communication school graduates each year, women represent just 35 percent of newspaper supervisors, according to the 2014 American Society of News Editors (ASNE) newsroom census. They run just three of the nation’s 25 largest titles, eight of the 25 biggest papers with circulations under 100,000, and three of the 25 biggest with circulations under 50,000. Only one of the top 25 international titles is run by a woman.

The numbers also are skewed in radio and TV. In a 2014 Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) survey, women made up just 31 percent of TV news directors and 20 percent of general managers, despite making up more than 40 percent of the TV workforce. The same survey found that women accounted for just 23 percent of radio news directors and 18 percent of general managers.

It’s the same bad news around most of the world. The Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media surveyed more than 500 media companies in almost 60 countries, and found that men occupied 73 percent of the top management jobs.

The ouster of The New York Times’s Jill Abramson and Natalie Nougayrède’s resignation from Le Monde—which both took place on May 14—made news, and prompted a quick, hot industry-wide conversation about the state of women in journalism. These very public departures were merely the latest sign that, with a few notable exceptions and in spite of years of work toward more diversity, men still run the industry.

As they do most. The Fortune 500 lists just 24 female CEOs. The Financial Post 500, Canada’s version, includes 26.

The results of this gender disparity in leadership are especially pernicious in journalism. To best serve the public as watchdogs and truth-tellers, news organizations need a broad array of voices and perspectives. To thrive financially, they must appeal to an equally broad array of potential viewers, listeners, and readers. Plus, content analyses and anecdotal evidence suggest that a newsroom leader’s gender can have a subtle but important influence on everything from what stories get covered and how, to who gets promoted and why.

Geneva OverholserPhoto Courtesy of USC Annenberg

Geneva Overholser

Former editor, The Des Moines Register

The newsroom culture desperately needs to shift
The newsroom culture desperately needs to shift from the old “We journalists know news, and it looks like this, and that’s what the public has to get” to a new ethos: The public is no longer just sitting there receiving the “wisdom” produced by our narrow conventional definitions of news. We need to figure out how to serve the myriad interests of our fast-changing communities. The best allies in this new ethos are people who themselves have had varied and differing life experiences. When this new ethos takes hold, then people of different economic and educational backgrounds, different ages, genders, ethnicities, become the “experts.” To date, we’ve dutifully sought to hire “different” folks but then forced them to conform to the reigning ethos. This isn’t comfortable for anyone. If men are forcing themselves to speak less but really don’t believe that others have more to say, it won’t work. Everyone needs to believe that LISTENING to people who have views other than their own is more important to the newsroom than ensuring that their own wisdom prevails. Newsrooms are allergic to cultural conversations like this, but they really are essential. Folks have to quit thinking of diversity as a wearisome duty and start understanding it as a key to success, an exciting prospect, the only way to win in the future. And it turns out that, for most people, it’s a lot more fun to work with a wider assortment of folks.

Yet, despite overall historic gains and pockets of progress, women lag when it comes to leading. That has many senior female leaders as concerned and pessimistic as they have ever been, and worried that the new generation of digital start-ups is recreating many of the same gender imbalances that characterized old media. “What we’re seeing in media is part of a larger phenomenon for women in leadership in all sorts of fields,” says Melanie Sill, former editor at The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer and The Sacramento Bee and now vice president of content at the public radio station KPCC in Southern California. “We’re slipping, as an industry and maybe as a society, back to a place where women didn’t get the same opportunities and didn’t have the same influence.”

That does not seem likely to change without a concerted effort on the part of industry leaders, male and female alike. “There must be a conscious effort. We can’t just assume that everyone is fair and kind, and that things will just work out,” says Suzanne Franks, a journalism professor at City University London, a former BBC producer, and author of the book “Women and Journalism.” “We assumed that for a while, and that’s why we’re in the mess we see today.”

As part of our reporting on the state of female newsroom leadership, Nieman Reports examined research papers on gender in journalism leadership and interviewed more than 40 academics, media entrepreneurs, investors, publishers, executives, and current and former editors from more than two dozen organizations. We found that solutions do exist, as do bright spots that hint at better approaches to ensure diversity, but that they’re going to take time. All the more reason to start now.

Female Top Editors of Major U.S. Dailies: Today Versus 10 Years Ago

With the ouster of Jill Abramson at The New York Times, there are now only three female top editors at the 25 U.S. dailies with the biggest circulations


number of female top editors at the 25 biggest U.S. dailies in 2004

USA Today

Karen Jurgensen

Chicago Tribune

Ann Marie Lipinski

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Julia Wallace

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Amanda Bennett

San Diego Union-Tribune

Karin Winner

Detroit Free Press

Carole Leigh Hutton

The Portland Oregonian

Sandra Mims Rowe


number of current female top editors at the 25 biggest U.S. dailies in 2014


Debbie Henley

Houston Chronicle

Nancy Barnes

Seattle Times

Kathy Best

At the Smaller Circulation Papers…


Number of current female top editors of the 25 newspapers with the biggest circulations under 100K

Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle, Nashville Tennessean, Des Moines Register, Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press, Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette, Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News, Providence (R.I.) Journal, Intelligencer Journal/ Lancaster (Pa.) New Era


Number of current female top editors of the 25 newspapers with the biggest circulations under 50K

The Lakeland (Fla.) Ledger, Idaho Statesman, Connecticut Post

SOURCE 2004: Nieman Reports masthead survey based on Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) average Monday-Friday circulation as of March 31, 2004. 2014: Nieman Reports masthead survey based on AAM average Thursday circulation for the six months ending March 31, 2014, the most recent date for which figures are available

Before they were doctors, lawyers, and prime ministers, bold women became journalists. The boldest rose to lead some of the largest media organizations in the world. That’s not to say it was easy; winning the right to cover something other than “women’s issues” took years of hard work, tough skin, and lawsuits.

Susan GoldbergBecky Hale/National Geographic

Susan Goldberg

Editor in chief, National Geographic

We were in better shape 10 years ago
We were in better shape 10 years ago than we are now. The first thing we need to do is to get people to pay attention to the numbers again. The number of women and minorities in leadership positions has taken a huge decline in recent years. I think it’s because all of these media organizations were worrying more about the survival of the business, the transition in the industry from print to digital. Everybody’s attention was shifted elsewhere. Of course, those were important things, but where we’ve ended up is not in a good place. We’ve got to pay attention again to the lack of diverse leadership in newsrooms, whether they’re print or digital. There needs to be more than one female candidate for the job. There needs to be a real deliberate effort to make a search so that there are a number of women and men to choose among when you’re looking to fill a top job. I don’t know that people are making those efforts the way that they used to. It isn’t going to happen by accident. People almost got used to this status quo, where there are so few women that every time a woman gets hired or fired, it becomes a major national news story. That kind of tells you how screwed up it is.

Since 1980, women have equaled and occasionally outnumbered men at U.S. communication schools, and as many women as men enter the industry straight out of college. But as survey after survey shows, the percentage of women steadily declines after that. Among journalists with 20 or more years of experience, only a third are women. The statistics are similar around the world. Women opt out of the profession more frequently than men.

That, researchers say, is the single biggest explanation for the lack of women at the top. “In legacy companies in particular, your ability to win those leadership roles is still based on experience as much as anything else,” says David H. Weaver, a professor emeritus at Indiana University who has spent several decades studying newsroom population patterns.

So why do more women drop out?

Some reasons are obvious. Journalism is hard work, with irregular and intense hours, and pay that often compares poorly to other white-collar careers. Women still do the bulk of childrearing and day-to-day maintenance of the home in most parts of the world. “Of the women in my peer group who had kids, I’m the only one who stayed in the newsroom or came back after some time away,” says Aminda Marqués Gonzalez, executive editor of The Miami Herald. “Most of them quit.”

Studies also show that men, sometimes because of the lifestyle choices working parents must make, are more likely to occupy harder news beats. The beats women are more likely to cover, whether because of inherent interest or because they are “softer” news, allow more flexibility. In an analysis of 21,440 New York Times articles published earlier this year, sociologists from the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina found that women wrote the majority of stories in five out of 21 sections: fashion, dining, home, travel, and health. Men wrote the majority of stories in the seven largest sections, including U.S. news, world news, opinion, and business.

Miami Herald executive editor Aminda Marqués Gonzalez, center, says news organizations need to make promoting women into leadership roles a priority from the start

Miami Herald executive editor Aminda Marqués Gonzalez, center, says news organizations need to make promoting women into leadership roles a priority from the start

“What is the path to senior leadership?” asks Susan Glasser, editor of Politico Magazine and former editor in chief of Foreign Policy. “In a place like The Washington Post or The New York Times, it’s going to be core subjects—politics, international reporting, the stuff seen as ‘harder,’ and ‘tougher.’ Those are places where there’s even a smaller subset of women, because those jobs are very time-consuming, they keep you away from home, they make it harder to have a family life.”

Margaret Low SmithKainaz Amaria/NPR

Margaret Low Smith

Vice president, The Atlantic; former senior vice president for news, NPR

I grew up thinking that anything was possible for women
I grew up thinking that anything was possible for women. Newsrooms are inherently aggressive, ambitious, and demanding. It’s not how women are socialized. I am a big believer that you can be thoughtful and humane and also principled and tough, and make hard decisions. Those can and must go hand in hand, whether you’re a female leader or a male leader. You have to have that whole constellation. Great leadership takes multiple forms. It is important to have a breadth and a depth of who it is from. That is vital because if you don’t, then you don’t have the truest form of reporting and understanding the world.

Another factor driving women out of journalism is that they still earn less than men. In Indiana University’s most recent survey of working journalists, women reported earning 83 percent of what their male counterparts took home, the same split as 10 years earlier. Some of that discrepancy is due to the fact that women are more likely to work at smaller organizations where salaries are lower, but some of it reflects the pay inequities women face in other fields as well.

Plus, female leaders in both print and electronic media still feel a unique pressure to meet some unstated, gender-specific standard of behavior. “It’s not a guy putting his hand on your knee anymore or calling you ‘sweetheart,’ ” says K.C. Cole, a longtime science writer for the Los Angeles Times and a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism. “It’s everybody finding a man’s show of temper a sign of conviction and power but a woman’s a sign that she’s ‘too shrill.’ ”

That double standard lay at the heart of the conversation prompted by Abramson’s firing. Even before her ouster, a story published by Politico relied largely on anonymous sources to accuse Abramson of losing support within her newsroom by being “disengaged or uncaring” and “brusque.” “Sometimes, qualities women are criticized for are seen as positive attributes in men,” Abramson says. “There’s still some truth to that.”

“The reality for women in those jobs is that you can’t win,” says Janet Coats, former executive editor at the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune. “You have to be tough. You have to be strong. You have to be assertive to get to the place where you can be considered for a leadership job. But once you’re there, everybody wants you to be mommy.”


of news directors at television stations in the top 25 markets are women
30.8% in all markets


of news directors at radio stations in markets with more than 1 million listeners are women
23.1% in all markets

SOURCE Radio Television Digital News Association 2014 Annual Survey, based on data collected in the fourth quarter of 2013, the most recent date for which figures are available

Journalism is certainly not the only professional field in which women start at parity with men but gradually slip to a minority of the workforce—and, in particular, of leadership. “In law and medicine, the explanation is career change or dropouts; people decide they can’t work that much,” says Philip N. Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who studies gender, family, and social change and co-authored the Times article analysis. “But in journalism, when you talk about top jobs, it seems as if it’s as much about hiring and promotion.”

So a self-perpetuating cycle can come into play, at least in legacy companies. Men are in charge, and are more likely to promote other men. Women see fewer women rising to top jobs and grow more likely to leave journalism. Thus, fewer women are around to apply for those promotions. Men become even more likely to promote other men to both the most important posts in the business and the jobs that serve as steps toward them.

The Gender Divide in Degrees, Pay, & Experience


Median income for male journalists in 2012


Median income for female journalists in 2012


Percentage of journalists in 1998 who were women


Percentage of journalists in 2013 who were women

SOURCE “The American Journalist in the Digital Age,” by Lars Willnat and David H. Weaver, Indiana University Department of Journalism, 2014, based on 2012 income data collected in fall 2013, the most recent date for which figures are available

SOURCE American Society of News Editors Newsroom Census, 2014. 1998 is the earliest year for which this data is available. The 2014 report is based on data collected as of Dec. 31, 2013, the most recent date for which figures are available

The Degree Gap

For more than 30 years, women have received the majority of bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communications, including journalism, advertising, and public relations. Yet women represent just 35 percent of newspaper supervisors, according to the 2014 American Society of News Editors newsroom census


37.5%   62.5%


32.4%   67.6%

SOURCE National Center for Education Statistics Digest of Education Statistics, 2014, based on data for 2012-2013, the most recent time period for which figures are available

The Pay Gap

The median income for male journalists is less than that of their female counterparts only in the early years of their careers

SOURCE “The American Journalist in the Digital Age,” by Lars Willnat and David H. Weaver, Indiana University Department of Journalism, 2014, based on 2012 income data collected in fall 2013, the most recent date for which figures are available

The Experience Gap

Women and men enter journalism in almost equal numbers but more women drop out of the field. Among journalists with 20 or more years of experience, only a third are women

SOURCE “The American Journalist in the Digital Age,” by Lars Willnat and David H. Weaver, Indiana University Department of Journalism, 2014, based on data collected in fall 2013, the most recent date for which figures are available

Susan Smith RichardsonMichelle Kanaar/The Chicago Reporter

Susan Smith Richardson

Editor and publisher, The Chicago Reporter

I am lucky.
I am lucky. My older sister had been a journalist for several years before I entered my first newspaper newsroom. She told me to expect resistance to my ideas and skepticism about my abilities because I was black and a woman. Being prepared meant I knew how gender discrimination might play out. That meant I felt less crazy when I was marginalized. It’s important to know when the problem isn’t you. Don’t internalize discrimination or criticism. That keeps you from standing up for yourself, plus you can’t think straight to do your best work. And, of course, how newsrooms value employee contributions is far from objective. I think we’re still in a period in which we’re trying to occupy a model we didn’t create, from definitions of what makes a good news story to how to cover poor communities and communities of color, rather than trying to subvert the model. At the end of the day, as a black woman I’m not interested in upholding newsrooms norms. I’m interested in rewriting them.

One obvious solution: Implement more formalized hiring processes. Research by Cohen and others suggests that large companies are less likely to discriminate against women when formal personnel procedures are in place. A formal process—one in which a certain number of applications must be considered, for example, or for which a diverse applicant pool is required—works to limit managerial discretion and to weaken old-boy networks, still the way many journalists climb the masthead.

“If more hiring editors were willing to look at résumés with an eye for the gems in the untraditional parts of those résumés, then women and people of color would get a better shake at hiring and promotion,” says Geneva Overholser, former editor of The Des Moines Register. “What happens instead is that we all self-replicate: ‘Ah, this fellow reminds me of myself when I was a cub reporter!’ The guys at the top had pretty similar paths upward, and it’s those paths that strike them as appropriate.”

Academia is one field in which women’s progress has been more consistent, at least compared to journalism and the corporate world. According to a 2012 study by the American Council on Education, 26 percent of U.S. college presidents are female. Among presidents hired between 2009 and 2011, almost 30 percent were women. Harvard University economist Claudia Goldin suspects one reason is that college boards are held accountable for their hiring practices, both by faculty members and the general public. “People are watching,” she says. “Scrutiny helps.”

Digital is a brave new world, sort of. The hierarchy of digital newsrooms, even many digital newsrooms within legacy media companies, is much flatter and more democratic. “It’s not that traditional chart: reporter, assigning editor, section editor, managing editor. It’s not that kind of ladder you have to climb,” says Cory Haik, executive producer and senior editor for digital news at The Washington Post. “If you walk in with a specific skill set that we need for a specific project, you’re going to be leading people immediately.”

Haik has been a manager for most of her 17 years as a professional journalist in New Orleans, Seattle, and now D.C. During her first few years in leadership, she frequently wore a suit to work. But that was to make herself seem older, she says, rather than like one of the guys.

Many digital-first operations seem to be replicating the same gender disparities found at legacy outlets

Millenials bring a different set of expectations to newsrooms, traditional and otherwise. They’re far less wedded to the idea of staying at one organization, or to what title they have. They’re far more aware of the need for a diverse set of voices, and have fewer preconceived notions about what a leader looks like. They hear “editor” and are just as likely to think Arianna Huffington as Ben Bradlee.

Wanda LloydDavid Bundy/Montgomery Advertiser

Wanda Lloyd

Former executive editor, Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser

Bringing women and people of color into an organization means also respecting them for their skills
Bringing women and people of color into an organization means also respecting them for their skills and encouraging their potential. I hate to go retro with the word “programs,” but that was a big part of the success of many people like me in the 1980s and ‘90s. There were many opportunities to get training, be put into management tracks, and receive mentoring. Of course, there has to be a commitment from upper management to make this happen. There needs to be a direct correlation between those who get into these programs and mentoring to make sure participants are supported as they rise through the ranks. Also, there needs to be incentives to address retention of leadership program participants so they don’t take their new skills elsewhere. The only way to foster successful diversity is to include meaningful diversity at all levels. Consider appointing mentors to women who express an interest in moving up. In some cases, mentors will not be other women and that’s okay as long as the chosen mentors are committed to the end result of the relationship—helping mentees chart a path up the ranks.

Emily Ramshaw’s mother, Mary Leonard, started her career on the lifestyle pages and had to fight to win the right to cover hard news. She eventually became The Boston Globe’s deputy Washington, D.C. bureau chief. “I have this one really clear memory of calling her at work at 5 p.m. sobbing hysterically because I couldn’t find my soccer shin guards and was going to miss my ride to practice,” Ramshaw, editor of the nonprofit Texas Tribune, recalls. “I could hear her responding to reporters in the background asking questions about their stories, and I remember the angst in her voice about being pulled in two directions at once. I sincerely doubt that back then many of her male colleagues were fielding that kind of phone call.”

Ramshaw’s path has been very different, and far smoother. She began as a City Hall reporter at The Dallas Morning News and now, at 33, leads the Texas Tribune. “I’ve been so lucky to never have felt a moment of, ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I can’t rise to that level of the food chain,’” Ramshaw says. She thinks women have found greater opportunities in digital newsrooms such as the Tribune, places where there is “no institutional baggage or hundred-year-old culture.”

Yet many digital-first operations seem to be replicating the same gender disparities found at legacy outlets. The top managers at most of the major online news sites, the people setting the vision and doing the hiring, are men. The rock stars of the emerging new media are data analysts and coders, a population that is still male dominated. Women now account for around half the undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math, but just a quarter of the U.S. workforce in computer and mathematical sciences, according to recent data from the National Science Foundation.

As Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, noted in March in a scathing essay on The Guardian’s website, several recent high-profile start-ups have been dominated, or at least headlined, by white men: Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, who told an interviewer that “clubhouse chemistry” was a key aspect of his hiring process; Glenn Greenwald at First Look Media; Ezra Klein at Vox.com.

Charlotte HallOrlando Sentinel

Charlotte Hall

Former editor, senior vice president, Orlando Sentinel

Women need to be models, models to other women but they need to mentor and train men and women.
Women need to be models, models to other women but they need to mentor and train men and women. I keep coming back to the fact that my two most important mentors, who helped my career the most, were men. A boss needs to be very fair across all demographics of the newsroom in terms of the opportunities presented. Women may be somewhat more sensitive as editors to making sure that women are in the mix. I would say always volunteer for the tough assignments. Put your hand up. Once you’re in meetings, speak up. I had to teach myself to do that, because as I was coming up in the business I was often the only woman in the room. Women have trouble speaking up. I had to set myself a rule: ‘You will speak in every meeting. If you have an idea, you are going to speak, and you will speak in every meeting.’ That was a good discipline. You have to engage the process, even if you think the process is male dominated or alien to your way of being in a meeting. The whole issue of diversity in the media in leadership positions is an issue that’s linked in a very essential way to the mission of journalism, which is to cover society fully, fairly, accurately. I have long believed that you have to have all sorts of diverse voices in the newsroom to do that right. You have to look like society to do it right, or look like your community to do it right. That’s also at the top. That’s why women are so essential in those high places.

The criticism of Vox put Melissa Bell in a strange position. She is one of three co-founders, along with Klein and Matt Yglesias. They had made a conscious choice to tell a streamlined narrative of the website’s founding that featured Klein as the most prominent public face. In hindsight, Bell says, the criticism was a learning opportunity: “Ezra never left me out of any interview. He always said, ‘We’re the founders.’ I didn’t think it was a problem until this whole conversation started. What was problematic was, I wasn’t representing the women on my staff who were so proud of the work they were doing.”

Some of the new newsrooms take their cues (and sometimes a bit of their start-up cash) from the entrepreneurial Silicon Valley culture, which is as male-dominated as any old-school newsroom. A 2014 study by Fortune found that just 4.2 percent of partners at large venture capital firms—firms that had raised at least one fund of $200 million or more—were women. The number of women in venture capital is even worse than the number of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies.

“The funding universe is dominated by men, the upper ranks of the journalism world remain dominated by men, and, I daresay, there is a tendency for men in existing leadership positions to look to Bright Young Men as the most likely miracle-makers for producing shiny new solutions to thorny problems,” says Monika Bauerlein, co-editor in chief of Mother Jones.

The masthead at BuzzFeed belies the industry-wide statistics. The political and pop culture website’s founders, chairman, and editor in chief are all men. But at a time when there are so few women running major U.S. newspapers, the executive editor and deputy editor in chief of one of the world’s fastest-growing news operations are both women, as are a majority of the newsroom’s senior leaders.


Number of 18 major online news outlets that have female top editors
The Huffington Post, Politico, Slate, Yahoo News

SOURCE Nieman Reports masthead survey for Business Insider, BuzzFeed, First Look Media, FiveThirtyEight, Gawker, GlobalPost, The Huffington Post, Mashable, Medium, Politico, ProPublica, Quartz, Salon, Slate, Talking Points Memo, The Daily Beast, Vox, Yahoo News

“Because we’re essentially making this up as we go along, you can be a 25-year-old woman and do a killer investigation for us. We’re not going to say, ‘Wait your turn’ or ‘Pay your dues,’ ” says Shani Hilton, the deputy editor in chief. “If you have a great idea and the ability to go execute it, and if you can lead people, you’re going to get that chance.”

Still, Hilton, a manager at 29, worries about what happens when all those bright, eager editors and reporters she keeps hiring decide they want a better balance of work and personal lives. “We don’t have a lot of mothers on staff,” she says.

Doree Shafrir, BuzzFeed’s executive editor, has been a professional journalist for 10 years, at BuzzFeed, RollingStone.com, and Gawker, but has never worked for a female boss. She says she has no female mentors to help her navigate the increasingly tricky path of top newsroom managers. “Men take it for granted that there are people like them in positions of authority, people who will look out for them and help them along,” she says. “For those of us in this generation that’s coming up right now, we don’t really have that certainty. Making it up as you go along is very cool, but it’s also occasionally kind of terrifying.”

Managers interested in retaining women and men who want children so that they can rise into leadership roles must promote policies that make balanced lifestyles easier—and model that behavior themselves.

Flexible work schemes made the path to senior leadership a little easier for Nancy Gibbs, who in 2013 became the first female top editor in Time magazine’s 91-year history. “Time Inc. always made it easy for both men and women to explore other interests over the course of their careers,” Gibbs says. “I have taken leaves of absence to teach, to write books, to be at home with my daughters. The flexibility made it much less tempting to leave.”

Julia TurnerJuliana Jiménez Jaramillo

Julia Turner

Editor, Slate

I think we’re in the middle of a sea change, in journalism and in general
I think we’re in the middle of a sea change, in journalism and in general. My parents were both newspaper journalists, so I grew up around a lot of women (and men) who were veterans of the newsrooms of the 1970s and ‘80s, and I heard the wild stories they’d tell. I have a deep appreciation of how far journalism has come on the gender front since then. Newsroom culture is changing. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to work at places where the quality of your curiosity is your ticket forward and gender rarely feels like a factor. I tend to think that as the rising generation takes the reins, we’ll see more women leaders. One characteristic of my cohort is that men and women are both demanding a more flexible workplace, which can make it easier to balance family life with work. Journalism can be a great job for flexibility, and digital publishing can enhance that. Publishing online makes deadlines a bit more fluid (news is news, but there’s no blank space in the morning paper to fill) and makes it easier to work in all sorts of places. At Slate, both men and women take advantage of that, and it’s a good way to attract talented people and keep them with you as they learn and grow.

But family-friendly policies, even government-mandated ones, only do so much. Carolyn Byerly, a professor of journalism and media studies at Howard University and editor of “The Palgrave International Handbook of Women and Journalism,” notes that women in journalism are better able to advance when these national policies are in place: prohibition against workplace discrimination, generous parental leave for men and women, childcare centers. Sweden and Finland have those things, and in Finland there are more female journalists than male ones. Yet women are still underrepresented in top leadership roles. So family concerns aren’t the only explanation.

In their book “The Confidence Code,” ABC News contributor Claire Shipman and “BBC World News America” anchor Katty Kay argue that women suffer from a “confidence gap” that contributes to inequities in many industries. Compared with men, they write, women generally underestimate their abilities and understate their qualifications. They don’t apply for jobs unless they meet all of the criteria laid out in the job description. They don’t push for raises and promotions unless they have solid figures to back up their efforts. They are far more likely to talk down their abilities, to apologize for starting a conversation about their career goals.

Testosterone plays a part in men’s tendency to promote themselves more eagerly than women. As Shipman and Kay note, higher levels of testosterone are correlated with an appetite for risk taking, even—sometimes especially—in the face of tough odds.

Newsroom leaders know precisely what they’re talking about. “Men were much more likely to come up and say, ‘I’m really interested in that job,’ or ‘I really deserve more money,’” says Overholser. “We’ve really got to be more aggressive in making sure our voices are heard, even if we’re not always as comfortable doing that.”

Goldin, the Harvard economist, studied undergraduate economics majors and found that young women were far more likely to be discouraged by poor grades than their male counterparts. Young women who were contemplating specializing in economics but did not do well in introductory classes were more likely to choose a different major than prospective male economics majors who struggled in introductory courses.

“I feel like girls cave into themselves around 11 or 12,” says Anna Holmes, the founding editor of Jezebel and now a columnist for The New York Times Book Review and an editor at Fusion, the cable network targeting millenials. “Something happens in our socialization where I think there’s a lot of self-doubt among young women that is hard to get rid of even after they’ve left high school and college. Then it is echoed in the workplace, because they learned at a young age that society in many cases values them for their attractiveness more than anything else.”

In 2002 and 2003, Tracy Everbach, an associate professor at the University of North Texas’s Mayborn School of Journalism who has written about the challenges facing women in newsroom leadership, studied the impact of female leadership at the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune. At the time, the paper had a female managing editor, editor, and publisher. What she found was that the newsroom culture was more family friendly and reflected “feminine” traits, such as openness, teamwork, and communication.

Reporters were encouraged to have home lives. They participated in the process to select a new executive editor. Top managers spent more time than in previous administrations walking the newsroom and talking with staff. One female editor worried that the inclusive, nurturing environment went too far: “Where are all the big men of journalism, the Jimmy Breslins?” she asked Everbach.


Number out of 12 major news/business magazines that have female top editors
Harper’s, Mother Jones, National Geographic, Time

SOURCE Nieman Reports masthead survey for The Atlantic, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Economist, Fast Company, Forbes, Fortune, Harper’s, Mother Jones (female co-editors in chief), National Geographic, Newsweek, The Week, and Time

“When I was editor in Sarasota, I was very conscious about modeling when I was going to be out of the office. I would send e-mails to the whole newsroom: ‘I’ll be gone for the next 90 minutes because I’m taking Rachel to a pediatrician’s appointment,’ ” says Janet Coats, who was editor during the study. “The men were the ones who showed up in droves saying, ‘Thank you, I need to go coach soccer this afternoon, and because of you I feel like I can.’ ”

“The best female editors may tell you gender doesn’t matter,” Everbach says. “But the facts tell us that having women in those jobs makes a difference further down the line.”

Mother Jones, which Monika Bauerlein co-edits with Clara Jeffery, offers generous family leave and allows parents to work from home when they need to. In explaining the genesis of the co-editorship, Jeffery put it this way: “We shared a frustration for where the organization had been and a vision of what it could be, and we didn’t see why we shouldn’t force multiply. It also helps us bounce ideas off each other in a very rapid fashion and at times it’s almost like a Vulcan mind meld.”

Kathleen Carroll, the executive editor for the Associated Press, calls it “snobbery” to focus on the Times and a select few other large publications when gauging the state of women in modern media leadership. Women, she notes, run plenty of newsrooms, large and small. Women hold the top positions at NBC News and at Al Jazeera America, at Time, Mother Jones, Harper’s, and National Geographic, at Slate and The Huffington Post. Carroll herself runs one of the largest news-gathering organizations in the world. According to the latest ASNE newsroom census, 63 percent of the news organizations surveyed have at least one woman among the top three editors.

“The focus has been on the old ASNE ladder of success, and I just think there’s more going on in more news organizations than the shorthand conversation about this has revealed,” Carroll says. “Do news organizations need to do a better job of having newsrooms that reflect the communities they cover? Absolutely. Is this a gender-only issue? Absolutely not.” (It’s definitely not a gender-only issue. In the most recent ASNE and RTDNA surveys, minorities made up just 11 percent of newspaper supervisors, 14 percent of TV news directors, and 12 percent of radio news directors.)

Kate O'BrianCourtesy of Al Jazeera America

Kate O’Brian

President, Al Jazeera America

Places that are willing to be flexible in how people work—for both men and women
Places that are willing to be flexible in how people work—for both men and women, but it might be affecting women more than men—are the most successful in terms of retention. I have been a full-time employee, a part-time employee, a job sharer, a freelancer and back now to being a full-time employee. And all of those were for one company [ABC News]. I am now with a different company, but that one company was willing to as my life changed incorporate that into being able to continue working. That’s the key for everybody, particularly now when the expectation of millennials coming into the business is that work will conform to their lives more than the traditional expectations when I was coming up that your life has to conform to the work.

Barbara Cochran, who worked in print before becoming vice president for news at NPR and vice president and Washington bureau chief for CBS News, sees things changing for the better, too. She remembers the days in the early 1970s when the National Press Club was male only. Women had to sit upstairs in the balcony and were not allowed to ask questions. Now in TV, she observes, the number of female news directors is increasing: “It used to be that a female news director would be in a smaller market or working for a less popular network affiliate. Now you find them at all levels, all market sizes. There’s been growth, for sure.”

NPR has had strong women’s voices from the start, Cochran points out: Cokie Roberts, Linda Wertheimer, Nina Totenberg, and more recently Melissa Block and Renee Montagne, people to whom young journalists can look as role models.

Still, Cochran believes more needs to be done: “I think companies thought, ‘Oh, this problem was solved.’ And now we’re recognizing that it’s much more subtle, much more difficult.” She cites an ABC mentorship program in which senior male executives mentored younger colleagues, many of them women and people of color. “That was a very valuable thing, to have somebody you can talk to,” Cochran says. “A lot of times you’re afraid to ask for help. Programs like that can really make a difference.”

This kind of sensitivity to gender and racial balance has made a difference at Al Jazeera America, according to Kate O’Brian, the network’s president. “If you came into our newsroom, you’d be quite taken by the gender, age, and racial diversity,” she says. There are two women on the senior editorial team and a number of women among the senior executive producers as well as in the technical department. “The ability to sit in a room with people of different backgrounds, different ages, different nationalities, and discuss how we’re covering the various stories, there’s no substitute for it,” O’Brian explains. “There are a million different perspectives and if you don’t hear them, you’re not going to be able to explore all sides of the story.”

Female Top Editors of the 25 Biggest International Dailies

The 25 newspapers worldwide with the largest circulations range from Yomiuri Shimbun, one of Japan’s national newspapers, with a circulation of about 9.7 million in 2013, to Rajasthan Patrika, an Indian paper with a roughly 1.7 million circulation. Wanfen Li, editor of the Guangzhou Daily, is the only female in the top editorial post at any of the biggest 25 newspapers worldwide. The Daily, with a circulation of 1.88 million, is the official paper of the municipal Communist Party committee in the provincial capital city of Guangzhou


Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

Asahi Shimbun, Japan

Mainichi Shimbun, Japan

The Times of India, India

Dainik Jagran, India

Cankao Xiaoxi, China

The Nikkei, Japan

Bild, Germany

People’s Daily, China

Chunichi Shimbun, Japan

Dainik Bhaskar, India

Wall Street Journal, U.S.

Hindustan, India

Malayala Manorama, India

The Sun, U.K.

Amar Ujala, India

Guangzhou Daily, China

New York Times, U.S.

Nanfang City News, China

Eenadu, India

Yangtze Evening News, China

Daily Mail, U.K.

Chosun Ilbo, South Korea

Qianjiang Evening News, China

Rajasthan Patrika, India

SOURCE World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers World Press Trends report, 2014, based on circulation data for 2013, with the exception of data for Chinese papers, which is from 2012. Sports Nippon, a Japanese paper that came in at number 22, was excluded to keep the focus on general interest newspapers

Gender and Journalism in Top Newspaper Countries



News companies only began hiring women as fulltime journalists after the Equal Employment Opportunity Law went into effect in 1986



The nation has the world’s largest newspaper market, though the literacy rate among men is 82 percent and the rate for women is only 65 percent



Few women hold top jobs in the news media, despite the fact that the country is at the forefront of supporting laws that promote gender equality



Despite equality legislation and company policies regarding gender, opportunities and pay for female journalists is not on a par with men’s



The male dominated government primarily appoints men to run state media, slowing women’s advancement into leadership roles



Sixty-three percent of newspapers have at least one woman in their top three editor jobs, but only 2 percent have women in all three

SOURCE “The Palgrave International Handbook of Women and Journalism,” edited by Carolyn M. Byerly, 2014; U.S. statistics from American Society of News Editors Newsroom Census, 2014, based on data collected as of Dec. 31, 2013, the most recent date for which figures are available

Meredith Artley, vice president and managing editor of CNN Digital and president of the Online News Association, found the conversation prompted by Abramson’s ouster—Did gender play a role in her firing? Are women held to a different standard? Is there a “crisis of women”?—almost cringe-inducing. “I’m not saying we don’t have a problem, but the way we talk about it can be a distraction,” she says. “You don’t see men have these kinds of conversations. They talk about the work, not about, ‘Are you leaning in or are you leaning out?’ ‘Are you feeling guilty about not balancing work and family?’ ‘Are you held to a different standard as a leader?’ Yes, there is a problem. But what’s the actual conversation we can have that will make things better?”

One place that conversation might start: Does who runs the show at the big-name organizations make a difference? Abramson’s hiring was celebrated and her firing debated precisely because the Times remains one of the exemplars for the rest of the industry. And content analysis studies suggest there are subtle differences between content and story selection at male- and female-driven organizations.

Meredit ArtleyCNN

Meredith Artley

Vice president and managing editor, CNN Digital

There’s been a longstanding issue of not having enough women’s voices among the big names in journalism
There’s been a longstanding issue of not having enough women’s voices among the big names in journalism. I don’t know that there is one cause. Is it that not enough women aspire to make themselves a brand? Or that some are trying but being denied by bad bosses or culture? Or that women are not encouraged in the same way men are, and that goes all the way back to how societies react to girls speaking out versus boys? All of those things and more are probably in the mix. I do think we tend to under cover the women who ARE out there. Becoming a ‘big name’ takes not only smarts, will, and support from others but also a media ecosystem that in effect says, ‘Hey, this person and their ideas are worth paying attention to.’ The Nate Silvers and Ezra Kleins of the world deserve the attention they are getting for their unique approaches, and it’s great to see those models. It doesn’t have to stop there. There are some great voices out there now who have a platform and pedestal and are ascending still: Anna Holmes [Fusion], Heidi Moore [The Guardian US], Kate Aurthur [BuzzFeed], Hanna Rosin [The Atlantic], Pamela Druckerman [International New York Times]. And in my own shop, many of our most incredible voices belong to women. All of those voices are smart, unique, and merit an even brighter spotlight from all media.

A 2011 study by two University of Texas researchers looked at how two Virginia papers covered the HPV vaccine Gardasil. It found that the publication with the more gender-balanced leadership and newsroom interviewed a broader range of sources, covered the issue more prominently, and offered “a richer perspective and understanding of the topic.”

Last year, Everbach, the Mayborn School of Journalism researcher, analyzed coverage of drug wars on the Mexico-United States border. She talked to both Mexican and U.S. reporters to see if gender played any role in story selection. Her conclusion: “The male reporters tended to approach drug war stories as body counts: ‘This many people got killed.’ ‘This drug cartel is in charge, and this drug cartel is trying to take over.’ The women covering the border war were more interested in stories that looked at the impact on families, on children, on border towns caught in the crossfire.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jack Fuller was editor of the Chicago Tribune when Anita Hill accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. He found the whole thing sad. His city editor—future Tribune editor and Nieman Foundation curator Ann Marie Lipinski—had a different response: “Ann Marie came in and said, ‘It’s a story not just about a controversy over who will be the next Supreme Court justice, but about race and gender and people’s reaction to both those things. We need to talk to black women and black men and white women and white men.’ Our coverage broadened and got much, much, much more exciting and interesting because she had this very different perspective.”

Anna HolmesAnna Wolf

Anna Holmes

Founder, Jezebel; editor of digital voices and storytelling, Fusion

The gatekeepers, the managers, could do well to constantly push themselves
The gatekeepers, the managers, could do well to constantly push themselves to broaden their idea of who’s in their talent pool, to actually look beyond the Ivy League grads who get all the plum internships in New York and to try and diversify their staff, both in terms of gender, but also in terms of ethnicity. Having a fancy degree from a fancy school and working at a high-profile publication is not an indicator of how good of a writer or a reporter or a thinker or an editor somebody is. There’s a lot of great talent that doesn’t come through those traditional pipelines that needs to be discovered and nurtured. It’s really exciting to know that we’re in a world right now where one doesn’t have to have gone to a certain school or live in a certain place in order to find a readership and success. Managers and executives and gatekeepers have to make a concerted effort to go find those people. Sometimes they come to you, but that doesn’t mean you can sit back and snap your fingers and have a diverse staff.

Promoting the widest possible range of people into top journalism jobs—not just women, but people of different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds—is smart business, particularly for news organizations desperate to appeal to the broadest range of readers. As publisher of the Tribune Publishing Co., Fuller appointed female publishers at four of the chain’s 10 papers: the (Newport News, Va.) Daily Press, the Orlando Sentinel, The Baltimore Sun, and The (Allentown, Pa.) Morning Call. “I don’t want to sound like I don’t care about equity, but for me, it was about organizational excellence,” Fuller says. “You want the best people. That means you don’t just take from 50 percent of the talent pool.”

Among Abramson’s proudest accomplishments at the Times was the number of women she promoted or helped promote in a very short time span. It was a conscious choice on her part, one several industry trailblazers now wish they had made to a greater degree themselves.

“I didn’t intentionally seek out women, the way I think Jill [Abramson] did,” says Sandra Mims Rowe, former editor of The Virginian-Pilot and The Oregonian. “Self-consciously, I didn’t want ‘the guys’ to think of me as someone who gave preference to women. In hindsight now, I don’t think it was about giving preference; I think promoting talented younger women (and men) perhaps before they have touched every base on the more traditional management trajectory is really about good journalism and good business.”

By promoting women, Abramson didn’t guarantee that Dean Baquet’s successor will be a woman. But she did ensure that the next time the big office opens up at the Times—or The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Huffington Post—the potential applicant pool will include more females. “It’s important because the population of the world is more than half women. It’s important that the diversity of the world be reflected in the leadership ranks of news organizations,” Abramson says. “It’s important to have the most talented, smart editors from the widest field possible making decisions about what stories are interesting. As the leader of an organization, you have to be actively ensuring that this happens.”

Among Jill Abramson’s proudest accomplishments at The New York Times was the women she promoted or helped promote in a short time

Researchers at consultancy Strategy&, formerly known as Booz & Company, recently surveyed the world’s 2,500 largest publicly held companies and confirmed suspicions that female CEOs are more likely to be fired than males. Many accounts of the cases of Mary Barra, CEO at General Motors, and Lynn Good, the CEO of Duke Energy, have looked at whether female executives face a “glass cliff”: A woman is hired as a company’s top executive just in time to take the blame when everything falls apart.

Debra Adams SimmonsLynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer

Debra Adams Simmons

Vice president, Advance Local; former editor, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

I had women who nurtured my career and helped me grow as a newsroom leader.
I had women who nurtured my career and helped me grow as a newsroom leader. I also had men, black and white, who have supported me and have been role models throughout my career. Your role models don’t always have to look like you for the relationship and your career to flourish. I certainly have tried to create a path for others. I’ve coached new mothers on juggling work and life. I’ve encouraged young men, including black men, to raise their hands for positions of increased responsibility. There are many variables that contribute to underrepresentation. Even though women are getting a great number of communications degrees, they do not always pursue opportunities in news. Sometimes, when they do pursue industry opportunities, they ultimately leave for jobs with better pay, better hours, even better opportunities, more manageable work-life balance and less volatility. Essentially, women often leave the industry for the same reasons men leave the industry. Many of my contemporaries have left the business in recent years but that has more to do with the industry’s financial model than with frustrations about securing leadership roles. That’s not to suggest that it’s not difficult to rise to the top of the profession. And it’s been even more difficult for women of color. Few women of color have been included in recent discussions about women in the newsroom, partly because there are so few and partly because they are not front and center in the minds of those having the debate. Those who hire news leaders need to more aggressively build diverse talent pools. My big concern now is the lack of diversity in the digital news space. When you look at the leadership of nearly all of the cutting edge digital initiatives, there are even fewer women and people of color. We should not be making the same mistakes. If we had diversity at the inception, we would not have to overcorrect later.

But the analysts also predicted that, if current hiring and demographic trends hold, women will make up a third of all new CEO hires by 2040. That may seem like a long time. A situation like the one journalists are experiencing now took years to create. It will take years to get out of. A look at the list of female Fortune 500 CEOs confirms that: Virginia Rometty, at IBM, started with the computer giant in 1981; Marillyn A. Hewson, of Lockheed Martin, began her career there 30 years ago.

“You can’t just wait for the end when you have an opening for editor and say, ‘We need to find a woman,’ ” says Anders Gyllenhaal, vice president for news at McClatchy. “You have to be thinking about this when you choose your next metro editor, when you choose your political writer, when you pick your columnist. You have to be thinking about it when you go to college campuses and look for summer interns.”

His company, where women are executive editors at 13 of 29 papers, is a rare bright spot in the gender discussion. Some of McClatchy’s success in ensuring diversity comes from recruiting—entry-level jobs on up—from as broad a range as possible. Some of it comes from managers showing employees that they can balance work and family, and that they’re expected to. Several female editors who worked for Gyllenhaal remember he made a point of having dinner with his family almost every night. When he was the editor in Miami, after hearing complaints from staffers about the struggle of work versus home, Gyllenhaal and his top managers made it a priority to ensure supervisors left the office early—or at least before the kids went to bed—once a week.

Marqués Gonzalez, who succeeded Gyllenhaal, had previously left the Herald for five years when her children were small, going to People magazine. When she was ready to return to the faster-paced world of daily newspapers, her bosses encouraged her.

“It’s about conscious choices,” she says. “I’m a Hispanic woman leading The Miami Herald. We have a Hispanic woman leading El Nuevo Herald. We have a Hispanic woman publisher, and the editorial page editor is an African-American woman. You can’t get to this place unless you hired me as a kid out of college at the University of Florida and trained me and encouraged me and welcomed me back after I’d changed jobs to spend more time with my kids. You can’t get here unless you had a plan, from the beginning, to get me here. You can’t get here unless this—women in the same leadership roles as men—has been a priority from the start.”

Susan Goldberg, who last January left her post as an editor at Bloomberg News to lead National Geographic, was the first female executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News, the first female editor of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, and is the first female editor of National Geographic. She hopes that being first won’t last much longer. “It will be a lot better when I’m not the first anything and nobody’s the first anything,” she says, “when hiring women is just a matter of course. Our society will be in a much better place when it isn’t the first ‘this’ and the first ‘that.’”

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