Gender disparity & males' preponderance at top level in media cos: Study

MUMBAI: Population First, the communication and advocacy initiative working towards gender sensitivity, has conducted a study on ‘Media: How Gender Sensitive, How Inclusive’ in collaboration with Gender Issues Cell of K.C. College, Mumbai. The report of this research was released at an event in on 28 July at KC College, Churchgate (Mumbai).

The report covers 36 media organizations from 87 respondents which saw Mapping of Gender Distribution, recruitment & promotion, Equity Policies, Proactive Measures, Sexual Harassment.

The findings of the study were shared in a panel discussion with eminent media and advertising leaders – Kalpana Sharma (Former deputy Editor, The Hindu), K V Sridhar (Founder, Hyper Collective), and Devleena Majumdar (President HR, Culture Machine).

A L Sharada, Director, Population First shared, “The study was conducted with funding support from UNFPA. The project was restricted to media organizations within Mumbai Metropolitan Region and covered a total of 87 respondents drawn from 36 media organizations across languages.

"Data on gender distribution at different levels within media houses have clearly reflected gender disparity. Board members, Founder members, CEO etc are predominantly men. Women are found in large numbers as HR personnel across print and advertising but are less in number in broadcast. The presence of women camerapersons, photographers in technical sections is dismal across all media. The study also throws light on beats being highly gendered, awareness of Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace, demands of work and family life came out as a major hindrance for women professionals in media and more,” she said.

Conclusion and Recommendations: This was a comprehensive study, carried out across print, television and advertising media to find out how gender sensitive and inclusive media is with regards to policies, gender distribution and pro-active measures in place, to provide a gender friendly working environment. The project was restricted to media organisations within Mumbai Metropolitan Region and covered a total of 87 respondents drawn from 36 media organizations across languages. The data collection exercise was carried out by a group of 15 students who received an intensive training in the intricacies of data collection and research methodology for two weeks prior to going to the field.

Conclusions, thus, are derived from the rich data gathered from interviews with media personnel and from review of previous research studies and existing literature on the subject. However it is important to bear in mind that media personnel do not constitute a homogenous community. They expressed a diversity of opinions on a range of subjects. What we present here are broad conclusions:

• Data on gender distribution at different levels within media houses clearly reflect gender disparity. While there are more number of women in lower and middle level positions, there is a preponderance of males at the top levels. Board members, Founder members, CEO etc are predominantly men. Women are found in large numbers as HR personnel across print and advertising but are less in number in broadcast. The presence of women camerapersons, photographers in technical sections is dismal across all media. Marketing and client services in the language press have more women employees. However the marketing section in English dailies is largely male oriented. However there are some exceptions like Indian Express which has an all women editorial team.

• Beats are highly gendered even though media houses would have us believe that gender is irrelevant when it comes to assignment of beats. Culture, education, consumer news, fashion, lifestyle are primarily assigned to women and crime, business and political reporting is generally done by men with some exceptions. This was attributed to a women's preference for the so called feminine beats and that it was unsafe for women to do crime reporting or that she was physically weak to handle heavy technical equipment.

• Some of the respondents were so critical of the use of a gender lens in the questions that it seemed as though gender is on its way out and that gender did not matter in media organisations. That women and men are distinguished more by their professionalism than masculinity and femininity. However a deeper probe revealed the misogyny floating around.

• A masculine culture pervades media organizations and determines everything, the work ethics, news content, that the gender of a person is unimportant, that we are all professionals. There was the preponderance of a ‘Boys’ Club” and a masculine culture which includes working till late hours or playing political mind games. Women respondents said that they got their promotional opportunities depending upon whether they played by these power games or refused to do so. Women respondents also felt that they were constantly being judged and had to prove that they were “as good as a man”. However if women were aggressive it was perceived as arrogance, whereas the same was overlooked in a man.

• The lack of awareness among media personnel about their rights with respect to various policies is appalling to say the least, and among those who are aware of institutional mechanisms and procedures, the reluctance to use them is disheartening. While the number of women in media is definitely on the rise, it has still not translated into organizations having structured programmes for creating awareness of sensitive issues like sexual harassment.

• Only 33% of the respondents reported to there being any orientation/training/workshop organized at periodic intervals for employees so as to generate an awareness of Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013. There were exceptions in which seniors from certain organizations did say that they conducted such programmes at their own initiative for their juniors.

• Again, this lack of awareness translates into respondents not knowing the procedure regarding filing of sexual harassment complaints within their organization. At least 26% female respondents and 10% male respondents said that they had no idea about the procedure for filing complaints. Amongst the others who knew about the procedure, many felt hesitant about filing such a complaint if the situation should ever arise, because they were not confident about their organizations supporting them.

• While the number of women in different forms of media have been increasing, the feminization of media does not necessarily translate into less sexism in media content or an increasing feminist consciousness since organizational content, socialization of reporters, journalistic routines play an important part in imbalances in gender portrayal in media content.

• Gendered assumptions and stereotypes are deeply embedded within media organisations but are more pronounced in the regional language press. Men play 'big brotherly or avuncular roles' (Joseph, 2005,p) patronising and protectionist.

• Reconciling the demands of work and family life came out as a major hindrance for women professionals in media. Women seek not only gender sensitive workplaces but also understanding families. The socialisation process is not wired to train girls in goal setting and negotiating skills or for facing the challenges of work life

• When it comes to gender policies very few organisations have little to offer other than the legally mandated policies like maternity leave for instance. Even here there are disparities with some offering fully paid three months maternity leave and others six months. Paternity leave of course is a mere token ranging from one week and fifteen days to one month. There seemed to an unwritten code in some media houses about losing out on career benefits like promotion and other incentives following maternity leave.

• However all is not bleak. There are some media organisations which stand out for their progressive gender policies that reflect their sensitivities to structural inequities within the system. These policies seek to provide a gender enabling environment and mitigate the gendered consequences of their work life. These include organisations like SapientNitro, FCB Interface and Hypercollective in the advertising media, Star Sports, NDTV in broadcast and BBC in print.

• Lack of transparency within media organizations is a bit startling. They seemed reluctant to share information on policies and programmes and when the gaze turns towards them, they refuse to introspect.

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