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2021 Women for Media - Take the Next Steps Report

Today the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia (WLIA) has released a significant new report: ‘Take the Next Steps’ – the fifth and most comprehensive report in their Women for Media series.

Led by journalist and academic Dr Jenna Price with Dr Blair Williams the report explores the role of female voices in Australian news, those quoted in news stories, and those who wrote the stories.

The 2021 report combines quantitative and qualitative analysis of more than 60,000 articles across the month of May 2021, plus in-depth interviews with leading figures in the media landscape. Media icon and business leader, Ita Buttrose, was interviewed for the report and made a comment on the need to ‘take the next steps,’ from which this report takes its name.

The report includes two sets of data: Big Picture and Top Billing. Big Picture was an examination of online news articles published in the month of May - a huge sample of more than 57,000 articles. Top Billing was a smaller sample of nearly 4000 articles appearing on page one of print publications or on the main section of the publication’s home page.

What women write about is gendered. Topics mostly likely to be reported on by women include health (53%) and entertainment (44%). What men write about is also gendered, and the topics that are “men’s topics” include politics (65%) and sports (87%). “Men are entitled to have an opinon about everything” - of all opinion pieces published in the month of May, men wrote 65 per cent of them.

In the inaugural Women for Media 2012 report, women accounted for 20 per cent of all comments. The Women for Media research methodology has evolved since then, but in 2013 and 2016 the report showed little movement. In 2019, a discrete sample of page one stories or of the main story on the home page revealed improvement in the elevation of women’s voices – 34 per cent of stories featured women. In 2021 the huge ‘Big Picture’ data set shows that 31 per cent of quotes in the month of May were by women.

While the results still indicate there is a way to go, Australian news organisations are encouragingly taking the next steps to elevate the voices of women. When WLIA published its last report in 2019, few news organisations were willing to go on the record about the challenges of addressing gender representation both in their newsrooms and in the news. It’s a different story now:

- Anthony de Ceglie, Editor-in-Chief, West Australian newspapers, said: “I think for too long newsrooms, like many businesses, have been male-heavy. The last time you put out this report, I was quite new in this job and I actually sent it around the newsroom, because that was one of the fascinating things the report brought up: thinking about the gender diversity of the people you quote.” See the full interview on page 65.

- Joanne Gray, Managing Editor of the Australian Financial Review, said: “If you take your focus off for one second, you lose the momentum.” See the full interview on page 73.

- Kerri Elstub, Editorial Director, Nine Digital said: “You can’t be expected to appeal to your audience if you don’t reflect them.” See the full interview on page 68.

- Gavin Fang, ABC News Head of Network and Newsgathering said: “We've changed the questions in job advertising to ask, "What’s the lived experience that you bring?" That’s been really effective and uncovers a whole bunch of different stories.” See the full interview on page 70.

- Julie Lewis, opinion editor, SMH said “So to women everywhere I say: pitch, write, and repeat. We want to hear you roar. See comments on page 28.

Gender representation in leadership across our society is changing but it’s slow. Partly, that reflects the management of our big organisations, with male-dominated boards and male decision-makers leading across a range of industries. Deep structural change is necessary.

For the report's key findings, social media 'sharables' and to read interviews with media management see:

Quotes attributed to WLIA Founding Chair, Carol Schwartz AO:

“Ten years ago, frustrated by the lack of gender equality and representation in Australian politics, business and the media, I launched the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia. WLIA is an organisation focused on finding the best levers for change to achieve equal voice, equal representation and equal recognition for women in Australia. Equal representation will shape culture, decision making, collaboration, and ultimately reflect community issues in a more fulsome way.”

‘I am certain that female media representation matters for strengthening gender equality. We have to shift the norm in terms of what a leader or expert looks and sounds like, and an important way to address this is rebalancing the voices heard via mainstream media.”

“While the findings of this 2021 report demonstrate that we still have quite a way to go, I am buoyed by a shift in attitude and commitment from Australian media management. Almost everyone interviewed agreed that diversity and gender equality in our news coverage is important to address – especially when considering the purpose of our media and the role it has in fairly representing and supporting Australian people now, and into the future. Many are now trialling ways to tackle this, and learning from positive progress elsewhere.”

Quotes attributed to lead author Dr Jenna Price:

“At 100 pages ‘Women for Media Take the Next Steps’ includes analysis of more than 57,000 articles across the month of May and is one of the most comprehensive reports I have been involved with. In addition to the two large data sets comprised in this report I was thrilled by the way Australian media managers responded to the invitation to contribute to the report’s experiential, qualitative research.”

“I have worked as a journalist for my whole career, and as an academic I have studied and taught journalism best practice. I have long been a feminist – and hold fast to the belief than men and women have equal value in society.

“The older I get the more I want to change conversations about gender balance and equal representation in our media, and support a positive change for women and for the state of news reporting in this country.”

I’ve taught a lot of young women journalists who want to be Laura Tingle when they grow up, who want to write about sport. What is getting in their way? Why aren’t they interested in economics and business? This report answers some of those questions.”

About the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia

The Women’s Leadership Institute Australia (WLIA) is a not-for-profit organisation, founded by Carol Schwartz AO. WLIA fundamentally believes in the importance and value of more female leaders. This is about optimising outcomes for our country by ensuring that men and women together share power, leadership and decision making.

Through leadership initiatives, evidence-based research, fellowships and strategic partnerships, WLIA is focused on finding the best levers for change to achieve equal voice, equal representation and equal recognition for women in Australia.

About Carol Schwartz AO

Carol Schwartz AO is one of Australia’s most dynamic business and community leaders with a diverse career across property, the arts, finance, investment, entrepreneurship, government and health. Carol has been recognised for her leadership via a range of honours including her 2019 appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia, 2020 Leading Philanthropist Award by Philanthropy Australia, an Honorary Doctorate from Monash University, induction into the Australia Property Hall of Fame, and a Centenary Medal. Carol has chaired and participated in numerous listed and private company boards, and current board roles include the Reserve Bank of Australia, Trawalla Group and Chair of EQT Holdings Limited.

Throughout her career Carol has been a passionate advocate for gender equality and women in leadership, and as Chair of the Trawalla Foundation and the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia, she has catalysed a range of initiatives to grow the critical mass of women in politics, business and the media.

Report Author Biographies

Dr Jenna Price

Dr Jenna Price is an award-winning academic and journalist. She is a sought-after keynote speaker and columnist who regularly appears on television, radio, and in media generally. Jenna is highly regarded for her contributions to the field of journalism and particularly for her work in the education of journalists. She has received numerous awards in academia including for her outstanding contributions to teaching and learning.

Jenna is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and has an award-winning PhD in political sociology. A journalist and columnist since 1982, Jenna’s work appears regularly in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times. She also appears regularly as a panellist on The Drum and has made multiple media appearances across television and radio during her journalism career.

Jenna’s writing is of interest to a wide range of audiences from mainstream media through to peer-reviewed academic journals and she is particularly renowned for her work advancing the rights of women. She is the co-author of the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia 2019 Women for Media Report: You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

Dr Blair Williams

Dr Blair Williams is an award-winning academic and is currently a Research Fellow at the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at The Australian National University. Her research focuses on gendered media coverage of women in politics, and she is becoming a leading voice in this narrative, already cited by national and international political figures in public talks, media, and publications. Dr Williams is highly visible in the media as a monthly columnist for The Canberra Times, Federal Political Correspondent for Radio Adelaide, and regular writer for The Conversation. Her research and activism have appeared in over 50 local, national, and international platforms, including Radio National, SBS, The Sydney Morning Herald, BBC, Al Jazeera and Le Monde.

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