By Laura Mecoy, President, Mecoy Communications
Executive Editor Jill Abramson’s termination from The New York Times earlier this year triggered a renewed discussion about gender equity in journalism. Unnamed sources reportedly used words, like “pushy,” to describe her management style. Most women regard this as the pejorative way to describe practices that would be called “assertive” if a man did the same.
Reporters, by their very nature, must be pushy to get the information needed to successfully report a story. While many male executives encourage strong women, it’s still a fine line between being perceived as aggressive and emasculating in the rough-and-tumble of a newsroom.
This is one of the many reasons we see women continue to be a minority in America’s newsrooms, while they’ve become a majority in the PR workplace. A recent American Society of News Editors census conducted by the Pew Research Center found women represented just 36.3% of the newsroom workforce in 2013. They have moved up in management: Nearly two-thirds of U.S. newspapers report they had at least one woman in their top three editing positions in 2013.
But overall, the percentage of women in America’s newsrooms has remained largely stagnant in the past 15 years, while it’s grown in public relations. Women represent about two-thirds of the PR workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Both industries require similar skill sets: the ability to write, research, synthesize data, deal with people, etc. But having worked in both newsrooms and PR, I can see that the PR workplace is generally more welcoming to women and more lucrative.
Journalism is characterized by long hours and low pay. Its future is uncertain, and it often values a “macho” approach that may be unappealing to many women. Moreover, past sexism deterred some women from continuing their journalism careers.
As women moved into management and sexual harassment training came into vogue, the sexist comments and activities waned. But the reduced number of women rising through the ranks reduced the number of role models for younger women and the number of women in management to hire and encourage younger women.
Perhaps more important to today’s women is the nature of the work. Young people entering the workplace today are often seeking a life-work balance that is hard to achieve in journalism.
News operations expect reporters to be available 24/7. The PR workplace is demanding too. But it can be more manageable. While reporters have to be on the scene of news, PR is more likely to be performed by phone, in an office or on mobile devices, making a work-life balance more manageable.
Even more troubling is the lack of a future in the news business. The recent layoffs at USA Today are just the latest in a long string of workforce reductions that have imperiled the future of news reporters. Until the news business finds its footing in today’s marketplace and becomes more welcoming to women, the PR business will continue to be a much more attractive career choice for women.