Media

Show Me The Clout

The glass ceiling seems shatter-proof at media companies, where men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions, make higher salaries and sit on more boards.
What must it be like to be a woman reporting on the economy and the national gender pay gap, knowing you're a victim yourself? And knowing that the longer you work, the less will be your compensation compared with the guy at the next desk? And that down the road, your pay gap will create a pension gap?

After reading the latest report about the shatter-proof glass ceiling in communications companies -- in the December report from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania -- I can only assume that plenty of female employees out there are entertaining such bitter thoughts.

Yes, we can continue to rejoice over individual successes of executives such as Carol Leigh Hutton, who this month becomes the first female publisher of the 172-year-old Detroit Free Press. But such stories are scarce.

According to the Annenberg report, women still constitute just 15 percent of executive leaders and just 12 percent of board members in top communication companies. The numbers are virtually unchanged from the previous year.

Tokenism at the Top

"With few exceptions," said former Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Susan Ness at the report's release, "we have not moved beyond tokenism in the number of women in top leadership positions or serving on the boards of communications companies. Men still hold the vast majority of positions. The glass ceiling is firmly in place."

The study examined board members and top executives at the 57 communications companies in the Fortune 500. The 57 comprised 25 telecom, 18 publishing and printing, 11 entertainment and 3 advertising companies.

For executive positions, this year's report showed that the presence of women varied from as high as 50 percent at the Scholastic Corporation to nonexistent at seven -- or 12 percent -- of the 57 companies. Those with no women in their top jobs included McGraw-Hill, Fox Entertainment and the advertising giants Omnicom and Grey Global Group. For boards, the range went from 31 percent at the New York Times Company to zero at Fox Entertainment, Grey Global Group and a host of entertainment and telecom companies. Ten of the 57 -- 18 percent -- had no women on their boards. No company had boards or executive teams with a majority of women.

To assess influence, the Annenberg study counted how many women had "clout" titles (senior vice president up through chief executive officer). Of 1,247 executives in these companies, a paltry 68 women -- 5 percent -- had such titles.

Pay Gap Wider Than in 1980

The paltry female presence in the executive ranks correlates with the stalling out of women's pay gains in the broader working world. A congressional study in November 2003 confirmed that U.S. working women earn 79.7 cents for every dollar paid to men. By this measure, women were doing a tiny fraction better nearly a quarter of a century ago: In 1980, women were earning slightly more, 80.4 cents to every dollar for men.

An analysis released in December by the National Association of Female Executives considered salary studies in a broad range of fields and confirmed a substantial pay gap for women in media. The organization reported that U.S. women in advertising made an average of $20,000 less than men in comparable jobs. Female print journalists made $9,000 less a year than their male colleagues while female television news directors made $4,000 less.

The gap widens as women log more years on the job and become more experienced, a sort of reverse reward system. Take magazines: Male managing editors out-earn female managing editors by less than $3,000, according to CareerJournal.com, but male senior editors earn an average of $66,472 while senior editors who are women pull down $55,602, a disparity of nearly $11,000, or 20 percent.

The trend line is just as dismal among journalists reporting for newsmagazines, radio, newspapers, television and wire services. The American Journalist survey released in April 2003 showed that female journalists' median salary in 2001 was $37,731, about 81 percent of men's median salary of $46,758, the same percentage as in 1991. Male and female journalists with less than 15 years of experience have comparable median salaries, but for those with 15 to 19 years' experience, the gender gap is $4,425. Among those with 20 or more years of experience, the gap is $7,314.

The annual study by the Indiana University School of Journalism also finds that the number of female journalists isn't increasing overall; they are still only one-third of all full-time journalists working for the traditional mainstream media (the proportion they have been since 1982), even though since 1977 they have been the majority of students graduating from journalism schools.

The frustration these female professionals experience running into a compensation wall is extremely high. Many deal with it by leaving the business just when they could be making the biggest contribution to it.

For example, a 2002 survey of top U. S. newspaper editors by the American Press Institute and the Pew Center for Civic Journalism found that 45 percent of women (but only 33 percent of men) interviewed anticipate leaving the newspapers where they now work, either for another newspaper job or something outside the industry altogether. Men also are more likely to anticipate moving up at their current newspaper (42 percent of men vs. 33 percent of women).

It's sheer folly for media companies to lurch along this way, given the plentiful data documenting the female pay gap and the brain drain it sets in motion. It's costly to lose a long-time employee, and employers who are pleased with a cheaper new hire are just kidding themselves. The smart media employers will protect their people assets and reward men and women equally.

Sheila Gibbons is editor of Media Report to Women, a quarterly news journal of news, research and commentary about women and media. She is also co-author of "Taking Their Place: A Documentary History of Women and Journalism" (Strata Publishing, Inc).