Why Journalists Perpetuate The Male Bias In Business
16 October, 2018
I loved that recent image of an entirely female panel on the newly launched BBC daytime show, Politics Live. Few commentators thought it was a coincidence. Indeed, it was more like a pointed statement from the (male) editor of the programme: If you’re good enough to comment on politics, it doesn’t matter what your gender is – men are welcome too.
Things have come far in the three decades I’ve been involved in journalism – but not in one crucial area. Business journalism. I recently wrote an article for the British Journalism Review about a typical week in British newspapers and how I discovered an astonishing imbalance between male and female writers. I counted 657 stories in the business pages, only 11 of which had a female writer’s picture byline alongside it. The men had almost ten times as many – a pretty regular occurrence.
But I think what has astonished me even more since it was published – and the BJR is a highly influential publication – is the almost total lack of interest in what I wrote about.
Maybe the conclusions are all a bit obvious, so no one can be bothered to reply. Maybe it’s poorly written and, anyway, who cares what some bloke thinks. Maybe it’s of little interest to men on newspapers or in the City. Maybe their female colleagues would like to respond but, for some reason, don’t. Not surprisingly, the two senior female city journalists I spoke to for the piece, along with the female partner of a high-profile city PR agency, said they’d only contribute anonymously so that it wouldn’t damage their careers.
I’ve tried to use Twitter to stoke an argument but the responses so far have been pretty lame. ‘There are brilliant female city journalists’, say the men, whilst some of the women say that their colleagues, sub editors and commissioning editors are all female. Except both responses miss my point: I’m not talking about journalists. Rather, it’s the impression these newspaper sections give to readers and the subliminal effect it has on the public - and on business - when nearly every pictured commentator is a middle-aged man. Sorry, but no one really cares if the piece has been subbed by a woman - brilliantly subbed though that piece undoubtedly is.
Just this week, newspapers dutifully published the government response to a report that called for greater diversity in the workplace. Ministers admitted that the UK must undergo a ‘genuine culture change’ to get rid of alpha males and promote women, adding that companies should ‘call out’ non-inclusive behaviour. They admitted that there is a ‘woefully low’ number of women in senior jobs the City, which is both ‘morally wrong’ and affects the sector’s productivity.
Talk about glass houses! Journalists – and I speak from experience – are swift to point out the faults of others without ever bothering to get their own house in order. I know my article won’t change very much but I would like it to start a discussion, led perhaps by individuals such as MP Nicky Morgan, a cheerleader for greater opportunities for women in the financial sector.
Or Eleanor Mills, editorial director at the Sunday Times (whose Business section inspired my original article) and chair of the brilliant, campaigning Women In Journalism organisation. Or even Dame Helena Morrissey, whose inspiring 30% Club has been at the forefront of ensuring more women are given access to male-dominated boardrooms and balancing gender diversity across the City.
Or maybe you’d like to respond. If you want to read the article, buy the BJR – or read a free version here.