Where are all the women?

Off the Beat

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Nearly everyone I know in journalism is a woman.

It started with the student newspaper at my all-girls high school. Then I went to journalism camp, and still, about 80 percent of my peers were women. Then I entered a college newsroom, and I was a bit thrown by the smattering of men in the office. But still, The Daily Californian is comfortably nonmale, and I never questioned what seemed to me to be an unshakable truth: that women were meant to be journalists.

Step outside the high school newsroom or the college newsroom, and suddenly, the water’s been disturbed, all the smiling hardworking women journos have disappeared into ripples, the bubble has burst. The ranks of editors in professional newsrooms are astonishingly male and astonishingly white.

Only a third of people in the industry are women. The numbers shrink at the editor level, and for women who look like me, the numbers are abysmal: Hispanic, Black and Asian women constitute less than 5 percent of traditional print and online news room personnel.

So why, across the country, are the composition of student newsrooms genderwise so ahead of professional newsrooms? 2017 was the first year the Daily Cal was headed by a male editor in chief in five years, and the rest of our editors are consistently mostly women. Women make up more than two-thirds of graduates with degrees in journalism or mass communications.

On college campuses across the United States, the editor in chief of the student paper is more likely to be a woman than a man. Yet, the numbers in professional newsrooms remain stagnant: the share of women in professional newsrooms has increased barely 1 percent since 2001. A glass ceiling has been shattered, but did the rest of the world hear it?

Both my past and my future professional newsroom stints have shown me these numbers in the flesh; whether at the alt-weekly a couple of miles away in Oakland or a national news outlet in Washington, D.C. or the biggest metro paper in Florida, the demographics are unrelenting.

Where do all the women go? They fall into a well-worn, rigidly institutionalized cycle of sexism and racism. Men, who traditionally hold editor roles, tend to promote other men. Women, discouraged with dwindling opportunities, leave the field, and thus diminish the number of women available for hiring in future promotions, according to Poynter.

Newsrooms are hostile in the same way many other workplaces are: They’re insensitive to sexual misconduct complaints (tending to shield highly regarded men), perpetuate problems of pay equity, provide insufficient maternity leave, assign erratic hours unconducive to the pressures of taking care of a family and permit blatant dislike of women leaders.

There’s no question that newsrooms loaded with white and male editors create an environment ill-suited to fixing these structural issues. Leaders in newsrooms must make constant, active efforts to hire and promote women and people of color.

As the media industry is swept by round after round of layoffs, women of color are disproportionately siphoned off. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of Asian American women fell from 758 to 466, and the drop-offs for Black women and Latinas are similarly steep.

Perching here in Berkeley, I’ve watched Bay Area newsrooms collapse and merge, and I’ve seen staff members depleted in numerous buyouts and layoffs. Nearly 30 reporters at the East Bay Times and the Mercury News took buyouts from parent company Bay Area News Group this week, with more layoffs planned.

I’ve had no choice but to accept the profession I’m entering with growing apprehension. And this apprehension builds even as my arsenal of emotional support at my college paper has expanded and strengthened over the last four years.

Newsroom diversity (in every sense of the word) is paramount not only to quality — fair and thorough sourcing and reporting — but also a sense of belonging.

I’m still not sure I belong in this industry or that it will even exist in a recognizable form in 10 years, but at this point I’m not sure anywhere else will take me. I was supposed to be a neuroscientist or a lawyer for my dad, who is vicariously living his success story through his daughters. I never told my dad I wasn’t going to do those things, but somehow I just kept also writing stories until there was no space for anything else, and now my fate (unemployment) is sealed.

I can only say that I have rarely felt like I belonged anywhere like I belonged at the Daily Cal, to steal the words of Melissa Wen, a former Daily Cal editor in chief. And it’s this padding of women leaders at the Daily Cal —  Melissa, Alex, Addy, Katy, Andrea, Ivana, Michelle and so many others — that has insulated me from the industry trend that people like me don’t fit into.

I love reporting, but only insofar as I have a support network that’s testosterone-free. When I leave Berkeley and the Daily Cal and join a new newsroom, I’ll seek out women editors and hope women will keep an eye out for me too.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.