This International Women’s Day, we take a look at some of the challenges faced by women in the media and the initiatives aiming to change toxic narratives and the status quo.

Globally, women make up only 26% of media leaders, and are generally more affected by information inequality, meaning that there is often little content created by women and about women, in public and commercial media. According to Internews, women still lag behind when it comes to internet access and when they do, it comes with a significant dose of harassment.

In 2018, a study published by the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) revealed that almost two-thirds of female journalists surveyed had been harassed, while almost a third considered leaving their profession. As of this year, 27 female journalists are being detained in harsh conditions, and the most recent episodes of online harassments in France suggest that there is a long way to go.

In 2018, public media also faced its #MeToo moment, with sexual harassment allegations revealed in newsrooms around the world, from the United States to India and Kenya. Yet newsrooms are still not well equipped to provide adequate training and resources to tackle this crisis, and most of them – at least in the United States – lack anti-sexual harassment training according to Kelly McBridge, vice president of the Poynter Institute.  

Such cases of harassment and inequality only add to the fact that there are so many parts of the journalism profession where it is extremely difficult for women to break through in comparison to their male counterparts.

Not an equal playing field

Worldwide, only 12% of sports news is presented by women according to UNESCO. Furthermore, only 4% of sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport and in 2016, only 1.8% of sports articles in the UK press were written by women.

While other content areas are better balanced, articles that feature women’s expertise and voices are somewhat rare.  At the end of 2018, a Bloomberg News reporter – Ben Bartenstein – tweeted that only 13% of his quoted sources in 2017 were made by women and in 2015, the Global Media Monitoring Project found out that only 24% of news subjects overall, were women. Bloomberg now has a company mandate to increase the number of female sources quoted in its stories and included in the company’s event panels.

In 2018, a study that analysed 11 European countries revealed that men wrote 41% of news stories, while only 23% were written by women.

Pay Gap

At the beginning of 2018, media figures around the world – especially in the UK – revealed that women working in journalism earn significantly less than their male counterparts, often occupy less senior roles and receive fewer bonuses.

In 2017, figures at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) revealed that male staff earn an average of 9.3% more than women, prompting female staff members to call for change. In July 2018, the BBC reduced its pay gap to 8.4% but female staff are, on average, still earning less than their male counterparts, especially when it comes to the ‘big stars’.

Yet, according to the latest report by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), public service media is leading the way in creating a gender balanced workforce in European media. PSM organisations directly employ 110,000 women, with 45% of staff of the organisations analysed being women. Moreover, the proportion of female staff in those PSM companies increased by 3% from 2013 to 2017.

But progress towards a balanced workforce must not be confused with equality in pay, and any measure to ensure greater balance must go hand-in-hand with measures to ensure more equal and representative pay.

Change from within

A more balanced workforce is of course a welcome step, and there are signs of change elsewhere too, with more and more spaces created by women, for women, providing alternatives to the status quo:

» Public Media Women in Leadership is a programme that was established by women working in American public media. It offers mentorship opportunities to prepare women to hone their leadership skills, by hosting an online community with webinars and training sessions. It also aims to create awareness in the public media industry about the need for a greater plurality of voices.

» The Cohort was launched in May 2018,  by Poynter. It’s a newsletter and community for women in journalism, which also offers free coaching programmes for women working or seeking work in the field.

» Dibradoras, launched in May 2015, is a website dedicated exclusively to the coverage of women’s sports across Brazil, with a weekly podcast and a daily blog.

» Press Forward, launched in April 2018, is a US-based independent initiative that provides guidelines and resources on harassment for newsrooms and freelance professionals alike. It has an aim to create a safe working environment for female journalists.

» MujeresRTVE, launched in 2018, is a group of female staff at the Spanish public broadcaster RTVE committed to raising awareness of gender and equality issues in the media and at the public broadcaster.

The Public Media Alliance is also dedicated to advocating for the equal representation of women across public media worldwide. Speaking about the organisation’s commitment to women’s rights, CEO Sally-Ann Wilson said:

“I have worked as a journalist, producer and executive in the media sector for nearly 35 years and am now privileged to lead PMA. As for many women, pursuing my media career has often required a great deal of personal compromise and sacrifice that would not have been necessary for a man.

Today I am extremely proud to say that the entire PMA team are fully committed to working year round with member organisations to ensure that women are heard, seen, reflected and represented equally.  Public media can only be effective if it accurately represents and reflects the true diversity of society.”

Do you know of any other initiatives? Let us know by emailing us at

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