On March 8, right in time for International Women’s Day, the Women’s Media Center released its report, “The Status of Women of Color in the U.S. News Media 2018.”
Unfortunately, if not surprisingly, the findings were not pretty.
Women of color represent just 7.95 percent of U.S. print newsroom staff, 12.6 percent of local TV news staff, and 6.2 percent of local radio staff. While the statistics are better for women overall—they made up 39.1 percent of all newsroom employees in 2017—these figures clearly illustrate the skewed state of female media representation and the truly dire situation for coverage by women of color.
Still, the issue isn’t just about who sits in the driver’s seat. This imbalance can also be seen in coverage itself. Women make up only 24 percent of the people heard, read about, or seen in newspaper, television, and radio news. Women aren’t making the news in every possible context and connotation.
The issue is certainly not limited to news media, of course. In her brilliant essay, “The Male Glance,” Lili Loofbourow deeply examines how both media critics and popular perception relegate women’s stories (and stories by women) to the discount rack of our cultural accounting. From cinematography to sitcoms and the great American novel, Loofbourow poses, “Women are fine; they have their place, certainly, but they lack universality. They are not the Public.”
Even if you know that men outnumber women on the planet (for reasons that should make you shudder), creating a more balanced media perspective has a lot of upside, not the least of which is in terms of audience and the inexorably intertwined holy grail: revenue.
“Women are more than half the U.S. population, and people of color nearly 40 percent,” according to Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center. So, it naturally follows that seeing themselves representing and being represented by the media will draw in these significant audiences. In fact, preliminary findings from the Media Impact Project show that news organizations with higher shares of women writing the news and in leadership positions also have higher shares of women in their audience.
Hearst is certainly one media company that recognizes the need for diversity in its leadership. One of the goals of Joanna Coles, chief content officer at Hearst Magazines, is to “look for the best possible female and diverse talent and give it the most support I can.” This approach should help its publications sustain and continue to build their female readership.
Hearst isn’t alone. About a year ago, The Washington Post created The Lily, a “publication for women.” At launch, the Post specifically cited the fact that it would create increased opportunities to work with “brands that align with The Lily’s vision, offering new ways to connect with this audience.”
The Economist recently set out to balance its 70 percent male audience and while the effort may be altruistic, it likely has a fair amount of sound business strategy behind it. As John Thomson, head of media at 360i Europe pointed out, a more even-gender split in The Economist’s audience would appeal to advertisers.
And it’s no surprise that advertisers are paying attention. Women control over $20 trillion in worldwide spending and their annual purchase power in the U.S. ranges from $5 to $15 trillion annually. Lest you think all of that spending falls into the “traditionally female” domains such as household, fashion, and beauty; note that women purchase over 50 percent of what are considered “traditionally male” products, including automobiles, home improvement products, and consumer electronics.
Significantly, advertising leaders aren’t just looking to reach female audiences; they are speaking up about the need for workplace equity as well. Just this week, 180 female C-suite advertising agency leaders launched a major initiative to address sexual harassment and systemic inequality in the workplace in partnership with Time’s Up to form Time’s Up/Advertising. Much in the way consumers seek bands with a purpose, brands are increasingly aligning themselves with publications that don’t just reach desirable audiences, but that reflect shared values as well.
While some of this might seem like little more than well-timed research (or worse, capitalizing on #MeToo), the media has an opportunity to leverage what it has always done well—understanding, attracting and serving audiences—to meet the demand for more equitable coverage. To do so, it clearly needs to invest in increasingly diverse leadership and staff. This is more than an investment in what’s right; it is putting smart money into reflecting and building audiences that advertisers crave.