Can women find parity in Canadian newsrooms?

The lack of females in managerial posts is a nationwide phenomenon

by Gethraa Shan

Is gender a barrier in Canadian newsrooms? Since Canadian women began entering the workforce — education and birth control both played a part beginning in the 1960s — newsrooms were no longer the sole province of the cigarette-smoking, hard-drinking white male journalist.

But even though the number of women in media across the country has increased since then and one can boast gender parity at an organization like Radio Canada, women continue to struggle to become decision-makers in newsrooms as top editors or publishers.

The Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media, written in 2011 by Carolyn M. Byerly, a communications professor at Howard University, revealed that women now have 26.3 per cent of governance roles, and approximately 40 per cent of managing editor positions in Canadian newsrooms.

The survey showed that, regardless of ranking, more than half of the jobs in journalism in Canada are held by men, that is, 54.6 per cent versus 45.4 per cent by women.

In 2015, Vivian Smith, a former journalist and manager at The Globe and Mail, wrote Outsiders Still: Why Women Journalists Love – and Leave – Their Newspaper Careers. Smith examined the status of women in Canadian media and her study suggests that a third of women occupy editorial roles and a quarter of managerial roles in print journalism.

“The higher up the ranks you go, the fewer women you see,” she told Ryerson Journalism Research Centre. “When you get to the top 25 papers in Canada by circulation there are only, at my last check, four women as publishers or editors-in-chief.”

Thirty-year veteran Martine Lanctôt was an editor in chief at Radio Canada. Courtesy of Martine Lanctot.
Thirty-year veteran Martine Lanctôt was an editor in chief at Radio Canada. Courtesy of Martine Lanctot.

Martine Lanctôt, who was a journalist and editor-in-chief at Radio-Canada for 30 years, believes women nationwide can anticipate a future in journalism. “For about 15 years, the amount of women in journalism has expanded. I think women will reach parity soon because females dominate journalism schools,” she said in a telephone interview. “Therefore, this is a great progress.”

As women show up in greater numbers to journalism schools, they can change the way newsrooms are run and even the way news is reported, Lanctôt added. “When women make decisions with men, they have an influence on subject choices,” she said.

“Also, the way they manage a team, the presence of women could be different — they need to cover areas such as economy, international politics and big topics like crime. These are subjects dominated by men.”

Professor Linda Kay: self selection can prohibit women from seeking managerial positions. Courtesy of Twitter.
Professor Linda Kay says that “self selection can prohibit women from seeking managerial positions.” Courtesy of Concordia University.

Gender diversity in Canadian newsrooms became an issue ever since the turn of the 20th century. The Canadian Women’s Press Club, established in 1904 by 16 women who aimed to “maintain and improve the status of journalism as a profession for women,” gave women a forum for networking, said Concordia journalism professor Linda Kay, author of The Sweet Sixteen: The Journey That Inspired the Canadian Women’s Press Club. “Women had no standing at the time the club was formed,” she said. “There was no education for women, so becoming a journalist is something that you learned on the job.”

However, Kay believes that it’s difficult for some women to fulfill managerial positions because they also want to have families. Self selection can prohibit them from seeking high ranking jobs in journalism.

Lanctôt agrees that the choices women make may explain their position in the hierarchy of a newsroom, but she also believes their bosses should attempt to promote them. “Women must apply for these jobs, show some interest, believe in themselves,” she said.

“And directors should make an effort in inviting them to apply — hiring competent women whenever they can.”