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Gender equity elusive, surveys show

Commentary

By Lee B. Becker
with Tudor Vlad, Jisu Huh and Nancy R. Mace
University of Georgia

12.15.03

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Two striking statistics were reported last Summer in separate sessions at the annual meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

In the first of these sessions, Dr. David Weaver and his colleagues at Indiana University reported that 33% of working journalists now are women.

In a session following Weaverís, my colleagues and I reported that 64% of the students enrolled in journalism and mass communication bachelorís degree programs across the country are women.

Questions to consider

  • Why is print journalism less attractive to women than are other communication fields?
  • Enough women are accepting jobs to increase the prominence of women in todayís newrooms. Why isnít their presence changing newsrooms?

Weaver, a professor in journalism and mass communication research, reported that the percentage of women in the nationís newsrooms has remained basically unchanged since 1982. My colleagues and I reported that the number of women in the nationís journalism and mass communication programs has increased slightly in recent years and now stands at the highest level probably since the end of World War II.

In an Aug. 27 Boston Globe article headlined ďMore women in J-school doesnít translate to jobs,Ē Globe staff writer Mark Jurkowitz called attention to these two figures and differing trends and asked a number of people for an explanation.

ďFor all the talk about changing workplace culture, evolving societal mores, and the abundance of women in journalism school, such traditional issues as babies, bad hours and old-boy networks still make a career in media a daunting enterprise,Ē Jurkowitz concluded. As a result, ďfull gender equity ... remains a distant goal.Ē

In the time since Jurkowitz asked me to comment for his article, Iíve reflected more on the paradox, which most journalism educators confront daily. Iíve also analyzed anew data on journalism and mass communication programs and on graduates of those programs from the Annual Surveys of Journalism & Mass Communication These surveys, which I direct, are housed at the University of Georgia.

The data give further evidence that there are significant obstacles to full gender equity in Americaís newsrooms and confirm that for many women the newsrooms of today do not offer what they want from their work and their lives.

Consider:

  • Women were more than twice as likely as men to have majored in public relations.
  • Male students were more likely to have had an internship in the media while in college than female students, who were about twice as likely as male students to have had an internship in public relations.
  • Salary and job benefits were more important to women in selecting a job than they were to men.
  • In general, media jobs provided lower salaries and fewer benefits, including lower levels of maternity support, to graduates than did jobs in public relations.

Despite these findings, enough women are seeking and accepting media jobs to increase the prominence of women in todayís newsrooms. Why these women arenít changing newsrooms is something the industry is going to have to examine carefully.

Key data

The Annual Surveys of Journalism & Mass Communication showed:

  • Male undergraduate journalism and mass communication students in 2002 were 1 1/2 times more likely to pick newspaper journalism and 1 1/2 times more likely to pick broadcast journalism as their major than were female undergraduate journalism and mass communication majors.
  • Female students were less likely than their male counterparts to have worked for the campus newspaper, campus radio or the campus television station.
  • Female graduates were less likely to have sought media jobs on graduation than men and much more likely to have sought work in public relations.

Women make up the majority

These findings come from two surveys we conduct at the University of Georgia annually. The first is an enrollment census of journalism and mass communication programs across the country. The second is a survey based on a probability sample of graduates of those programs. The Freedom Forum and other media foundations and associations sponsor these surveys.

Data from the enrollment survey, reported in detail in the just-released issue of Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, show that in Fall 2002 women made up the majority of the 194,500 students enrolled in bachelorís, masterís and doctoral programs in the nationís 463 journalism and mass communication programs.

Not surprisingly, women also made up the majority of the graduates of these programs. In academic year 2001-02, women received 64.6% of the 42,060 bachelorís degrees granted by these programs, 64.2% of the 3,700 masterís degrees, and 50.3% of the 180 doctoral degrees.

Weaver and his Indiana University colleagues estimate that the number of full-time editors, reporters and producers working for the mainstream media in 2002 was only 116,000. Even if only half of the 27,170 female bachelorís degree recipients joined the roughly 38,280 women already working as journalists, they would greatly increase womenís presence in newsrooms.

The enrollment data for 2002 were no fluke. Women have been a majority of undergraduate students enrolled in journalism and mass communication programs since at least academic year 1977-78. When the first national survey of journalists was conducted in 1971, only 20% of the journalistic workforce was female, but women already made up about 40% of students enrolled in journalism and mass communication undergraduate programs nationally. In 1982-83, according to Weaver and his colleagues, just under 34% of the journalists were female — as is true today. In academic year 1982-83, 59% of the bachelorís degree students were female.

Men, women seek different jobs

Dr. Lee B. Becker, director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia.

In two important ways, however, the enrollment and degree-granted data are misleading. First, only a small proportion of the graduates of journalism and mass communication programs actually want and look for media jobs upon graduation. Second, even a smaller percentage of the women look for media jobs than do men.

Consider the 2002 graduates as an example.

Six to eight months after graduation, only one in four had sought a job with a daily newspaper or in television. Fewer than one in five had sought a job in radio, and fewer still had sought a job with a weekly newspaper. Of course, many graduates seek jobs in more than one industry section, but one of five had not sought a job in communications at all.

For women, the figures are even lower. Only 23.5% sought a daily newspaper job, compared with 30.3% of the men. An identical 23.5% of the women sought a job in television, compared with 30.9% of the men.

Women were more likely to have sought jobs in public relations. Overall, a quarter of the graduates sought jobs with a public relations agency. Of the women, 29.2% sought a public relations agency job; of the men, only 20.2% sought such a job. The same was true in terms of public relations jobs within companies. A quarter of the graduates sought such jobs, but it was 31.2% of the women and only 18.8% of the men.

A quarter of the graduates sought jobs in an advertising agency, but women and men sought these jobs equally. Fewer than one in five sought jobs in an advertising department of a company, but again, women and men sought the jobs equally.

These findings come from the 2002 graduate survey, in which 2,798 spring bachelorís degree recipients from a probability sample of 103 journalism and mass communication programs across the country were surveyed.

They indicate that a significant number of women seek media jobs. In 2002, an estimated 6,345 sought a job with a daily newspaper, for example, and the same number sought a job in television. A total of about 11,020 sought jobs with either or both. Had they all been hired in 2002, they almost certainly would have increased the number of working female journalists, unless a quarter of the 38,280 female journalists already working had left their jobs.

Only 34.2% of the female graduates who looked for work in a daily newspaper actually were given an offer, compared with 44.3% of the male graduates. In television, 33.9% of the female students who looked for a job got an offer, compared with a statistically comparable 35.2% of the male graduates.

Six to eight months after graduation, 8.4% of the male students were working for a daily newspaper, compared with 5.0% of the female students. The gap in percentages was smaller for television (6.0% of the females and 4.9% of the males) and possibly attributable to sampling error. Female students were more likely to end up with a job in public relations than were the male students (2.6% of the males vs. 5.2% of the females).

Number in journalism isn't increasing

Translating those percentages into actual figures suggests why the actual number of female journalists isnít increasing. It seems that about 1,360 female journalism and mass communication graduates and about 1,250 male graduates joined the journalistic ranks at daily newspapers in 2002. Television newsrooms picked up about 1,330 female graduates and 895 male graduates.

As the Indiana University data make clear, daily newspaper newsrooms in the last 10 years did not become more female. Hiring only about 100 extra females, in other words, didnít tip the balance much. Television newsrooms did become more female in the last 10 years. This is consistent with the estimate in our data that television stations hired 435 more female graduates than male graduates in 2002. That year, radio and weekly newspapers hired fewer than 100 more women than men, and wire services hired the same number of women as men, based on our data. This is consistent with the Indiana data, which show that these industry segments actually became less female in the last 10 years.

Of course, not all entry-level hiring in journalism comes from journalism and mass communication programs, although clearly much of it does. Based on our estimates, more than three of four entry-level hires in daily newspapers come from journalism and mass communication programs. In television, the ratio is more than nine of 10.

Job preparation differs, too

Female and male students clearly differ in terms of their job-seeking strategies, but this is hardly surprising, given that they differ dramatically in what they do as part of their college activities to prepare themselves for jobs.

Female students in 2002 — and in all recent years &151; were more likely to have studied public relations. Male students were more likely to have studied newspaper or broadcast journalism. Women were at least as likely as men to have studied magazine journalism. Women and men also were equally likely to have studied advertising.

Women in 2002 were more likely to have had a public relations internship than men (28.1% vs. 14.6%) and less likely to have had a newspaper (16.3% vs. 19.5%), television (18.5% vs. 20.9%) or radio internship (10.7% vs. 12.4%).

Female graduates were less likely to have worked for the campus newspaper (31.5% vs. 36.2%), the campus television station (13.3% vs. 20.7%) or the campus radio station (12.1% vs. 21.7%) than the male students.

In fact, women have different motivations for studying journalism and mass communication than do men. Across the years of the survey, we have asked graduates why they entered the field. For women, a top consideration has been a social motivation. They say they like journalism and mass communication because they ďlike working with people.Ē This isnít their only motivation, but it is an important one, and it is more important for women than for men.

For example, in 1999, some 63% of the female bachelorís degree recipients said a desire to work with people was a very important reason for their decision to study journalism, while only 41.9% of the male graduates selected this as a very important reason. Female and male graduates differ little in terms of seeking job security and their interest in current events, but women seem to have a greater service orientation than men. Women in 1999, for example, were more likely to say they studied journalism because of a desire to help people understand the world.

Female graduates in 2002 told us they were a bit more likely to have taken the job they were holding because of the salary it paid than were male students (27.9% vs. 23.3%). Female students also were more motivated by benefits offered (35.1% vs. 26.9%).

We also asked graduates with media jobs about their salaries and benefits. Public relations jobs outperformed newspaper, television and radio jobs on both counts. The median salary earned by bachelorís degree recipients working full time with a daily newspaper was $25,000. For radio the figure was $24,000, while for television it was $22,000. In public relations, the median salary was $27,000.

Graduates with jobs in public relations also were more likely to report that their employer paid for all but one of eight listed benefits than were graduates working in newspapers or broadcast. Included was maternity leave. The exception was child care, which isnít likely to be paid for by any of the employers but was more likely to be provided in media than in public relations jobs.

In the autumn of 2000, the last year for which data are available, 56% of students at U.S. universities enrolled in undergraduate programs across all majors were women. That figure has been increasing gradually in recent years. Since 1978, journalism and mass communication has outpaced undergraduate education in terms of its appeal to women. There is no reason to expect universities generally or journalism and mass communication in particular to become less attractive to female students in the future.

Getting women to enter the nationís newsrooms is only part of the challenge. Keeping them there is a big challenge as well, the Indiana University data make clear . In 1992, 44.8% of journalists with four or fewer years of professional experience were women. Ten years later, that cohort was only 34.4% female. In 1992, 41.7% of journalists with five to nine years of experience were female. Ten years later, that cohort was 26.2% female.

Getting women into the newsroom, however, is the necessary first step.

Challenges to getting women to newspapers

  • A culture that emphasizes competition and limits social interaction
  • A definition of news that focuses on conflict
  • Hours and inflexible scheduling
  • Compensation and benefits

Journalism at odds with needs, goals

Why is the practice of journalism less attractive to females than is the broader academic field of journalism and mass communication?

The data offer some hints, but they are only that. And my reading of them may be wrong.

But I think that women — who, our data show, earn better grades at the university than do males — are smart enough to recognize problems with the compensation journalism is providing. They see that public relations offers them more.

They also recognize the difficulties of work requirements. In our society, women continue to bear more of the burden for child rearing and care than do men. If the job demands long hours, night work and inflexible scheduling, it isnít as attractive as one without these constraints.

Many newsrooms also are very competitive places, where social interaction is restricted. There often is little teamwork, particularly in many newspaper newsrooms. Social harmony often isnít promoted. If you like working with people — and many of our female students say this is important to them — this may not be the best place to be.

Finally, I read the data as suggesting that women have some doubts about the very nature of news work and of the definitions of news itself. News very often is conflictual. It focuses on social discord, rather than social harmony. It doesnít always present society with solutions to problems.

Americaís newsrooms need both women who share the current definitions of news, and those who do not. The majority of the potential audience for news is female, and the media need to know what women want from media. The media may decide to offer something different, but they shouldnít do so without considering alternative approaches to news and understanding what those approaches might mean to readership and viewership.

Recognizing the need to consider alternative perspectives may be an essential first step toward reaching what Boston Globe journalist Mark Jurkowitz has called the ďdistant goalĒ of ďfull gender equity.Ē

There are enough women studying journalism and mass communication to make newsrooms more reflective of society. The trick is getting more of these women interested in the practice of journalism.

Additional information on and full reports from the Annual Surveys of Journalism & Mass Communication are available on the Web.

The preliminary findings of the research by David Weaver and others at Indiana University also are available on the Web. The project was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

About the authors

Lee B. Becker is a professor in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia.

Tudor Vlad is assistant director of the Cox Center. Jisu Huh, now on the faculty at the University of Minnesota, was a graduate student and research assistant in the center, where Nancy Mace is a graduate student research assistant.

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