Study shows steady decline of women achieving top positions in journalism and business
More than two decades in as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, Sonya Ross seemed to be the poster woman for a successful effort in the late 1980’s at the global non-profit news network to diversify its editorial team.
She rose from an intern in the Atlanta bureau to reporter covering Georgia state politics and then moved to Washington D.C. where she covered the civil rights beat as a national reporter. From there Ross went on to become the first African-American woman to cover the White House for the AP. She then was chosen to lead its World Services Desk. Her next role was to supervise a team of 13 D.C.-based regional reporters and direct political coverage during the 2008 elections.
So it came as a shock to read the 17-page complaint Ms. Ross filed in May alleging discrimination and retaliation in recent years as she sought greater opportunities to shape AP’s news coverage.
But according to a report that finds women, and particularly women of color, continuing to lose ground in the path to leadership at America’s companies, perhaps Ross’s account of being stalled at the legacy media organization in recent years isn’t so surprising.
In a recent “Women in the Workplace” report, a LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company survey of 132 companies across a variety of professions including the media industry shows a steady decline of women participating in roles with higher levels of influence in their workplace.
“Women are less likely to receive the first critical promotion to manager — so far fewer end up on the path to leadership — and they are less likely to be hired into more senior positions,” the report found. “Women also get less access to the people, input, and opportunities that accelerate careers.”
While commitment to gender diversity is at an all time high with 78 percent of companies surveyed calling it a “top priority,” only 55 percent said racial diversity is a priority.
While the report doesn’t go into great detail on race and gender and the leadership pipeline, it offered statistics that show women of color “face the most barriers to advancement and experience the steepest drop-offs with seniority.”
Despite finding that women of color cultivate higher aspirations for top roles than white women, women of color say that they get less access to opportunities.
Overall, women of color hold 17 percent of entry-level positions and three percent of all C-suite positions of the surveyed companies, which employ 4.6 million people. In media, entertainment and telecom industries, women make up 43 percent of employees in entry-level posts and 21 percent in the C-suite positions.
In a portion of the survey that surveyed the experiences 34,000 employees from 39 companies, eight of which were in the media, entertainment and telecom industries, women of color said that they experience a workplace that is less fair and inclusive.
Specifically, women of color are nine percent less likely to say they’ve received a challenging new assignment, 21 percent less likely to think the best opportunities go to the most deserving employees and 10 percent less likely to feel comfortable being themselves as work.
African-American women express even more skepticism about fairness in the workplace. At 29 percent, less than a third surveyed say that the best opportunities at their company go to the most deserving employees, compared to 47 percent of white women, 43 percent of Asian women, and 41 percent of Hispanic women expressing this sentiment.
In her May 2016 complaint Ross asserted that she went more than five years without a promotion and when promoted to her current role, AP Race & Ethnicity Editor, a position she proposed that would aim to produce special coverage of racial and ethnic-oriented news as demographic changes increased the demand for this content. After being named to the role, the complaint charges Ross didn’t receive a staff, resources or an increase in pay. The complaint also states Ross has been subject to retaliation for reporting her experiences of mistreatment to a federal investigator.
It’s certainly not the first time women suffering from inequities in the workplace have received push back for speaking up. In a 2015 women in the workplace report, study authors put media companies in “locked out of the top” category in terms of female advancement. In this group, companies attract women into entry-level roles and advance them into middle management, but “struggle to promote them to top-level executive positions.”
The report comes out at the same time others are opining about the lack of female CEO’s in the media. In a Sept. 27 post, Advertising Age asks “Why Don’t More Women Run Media Companies?” as founder of Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington steps down from her role as editor-in-chief.
“Some executives worry that the imbalance is bad not just for women’s chances for advancement but for their products and their businesses as a whole,” writes Jeremy Barr.
Overall, the reason for stalled female ambition, the LinkedIn.org and McKinsey & Company report says, is that many employees have not bought into the concept of a diverse workplace in part because it hasn’t been a priority among management and they believe that it could result in placing a lower value on individual performance.