Women in the media

By The Drum, Administrator

March 24, 2005 | 8 min read


The aim of the research was to explore whether gender issues have been, or continue to be, encountered by those working in the Scottish media and communications sector and the extent to which gender equality policies have been put in place.


The project consisted of two elements: a postal survey of companies and telephone interviews with a sample of individuals employed in the industry. Both surveys covered companies and individuals from the disciplines of advertising, publishing, marketing, film and TV, music, press, PR and radio.

The postal survey aimed to identify uptake of gender equality policies within the Scottish media and communication sector as well as to examine the barriers relating to the introduction of these types of policies. 65 companies responded to the survey.

The second element of the research was more successful in terms of response, and consisted of telephone interviews with 138 (84 female; 54 male) individuals employed in the media and communication sector in Scotland.

The aim of this element of the research was to obtain the views of employees with regard to unequal treatment and barriers at work and the impact of gender equality policies on their working lives.

What the companies say:

54 per cent of the companies responding did have in place gender equality policies, most commonly equal opportunities, flexible working, family friendly and work-life balance. Most of these companies had more than one gender equality policy in place. However, 46 per cent of responding companies had no gender policies in place, for many because they regarded themselves as too small to require a policy-level approach, or because they described themselves as having ‘informal’ or unwritten policies.

Companies in the public relations sector and also companies with a higher proportion of female executives or managers were more likely to have introduced gender equality policies. Equally, such policies are more likely to exist in companies where more than 50 per cent of the workforce is female. Interestingly, flexible working policies are unaffected by the gender characteristics of the responding company.

Companies felt that the benefits gained from the introduction of gender equality policies included: the creation of a culture of equality; ensuring processes of recruitment and promotion are built upon merit and ability; sustaining a sense of loyalty and trust among staff; and improved levels of staff retention.

A significant proportion of responding companies had encountered negative attitudes among male employees towards maternity provision.

One respondent interestingly felt so strongly about the issue that he/she, “will not employ women of child bearing age any more.”

Most responding companies had encountered no problems as a result of the implementation of gender policies, however small numbers acknowledged difficulties in raising awareness among staff and management and ensuring management buy-in to these particular policies.

Small companies were more likely to have encountered barriers in implementing gender equality policies, largely as a result of the cost of such initiatives and the lack of resources to support, for example, flexible working or maternity, paternity or childcare provision, or to cover the loss of women on maternity leave.

The majority of companies (87 per cent) felt that senior management fully supported gender equality policies. However, for 57 per cent, gender equality policies form no part of the staff induction process, while only 22 companies consulted staff and only 3 consulted unions about gender policy issues.

What the women say:

A highly significant 62 per cent of female respondents have experienced unequal treatment and 56 per cent have faced a number of gender-related barriers in their working lives within the Scottish media and communication sector.

Several respondents felt that they had to adopt traditional female roles to survive in the sector. Similarly, many respondents reported a perception that women were not as effective as men in this working environment.

The existence of an ‘old boys’ network’ was cited by 39 per cent of respondents who felt that workplace gatherings and social events were very male oriented and excluded women.

Indeed, many respondents noted personal experiences where women were accorded a lack of respect, status and recognition.

52 per cent noted management encouragement of a culture perceived as condescending towards women. Both male and female managers were felt to demonstrate this tendency.

41 per cent of the females interviewed highlighted work-life balance as a major barrier to career progression, because of the long and flexible working hours required of them in the media.

Over a third of the female respondents found it difficult to reconcile family demands with work in the press, PR, film and television. It was also felt that taking maternity leave might be a career setback, and promotional opportunities had been missed by many respondents while on maternity leave.

Women also found it particularly difficult to be flexible in terms of location working when they had a family, which limited their career options. 24of the 84 female respondents had never encountered gender barriers in the workplace, however a number felt that they had been ‘lucky’ to avoid this. Two women noted they had benefited from positive discrimination.

31 per cent of female respondents had encountered problems with contract terms and conditions, with a significant 24 per cent having personally encountered a gender pay gap, in particular for women between the ages of 31 and 40.

A small percentage of women also observed that training available to male colleagues had not been made available to them, with a potential impact on their career progression.

A significant number of female respondents were freelance workers, a pattern common to the industry as a whole. They reported benefits, including flexibility and achievement of a work-life balance.

However, it was also felt that men were better at negotiating terms and conditions in the freelancing environment.

It was also noted that male freelancers tended to be characterised as ambitious and ‘heading for something bigger and better’, whereas female freelancers were doing it ‘because of children’.

What the men say:

Only 13 per cent of the male respondents indicated that they had witnessed examples of unequal treatment of women throughout their time in the Scottish media and communication sector. Their comments related to examples of: patronising, sexist behaviour on the part of the men; sexual harassment of women by male colleagues and managers; and a general ‘negative attitude’ towards women in the sector.

The majority of male respondents believed that this particular sector was generally free from gender-related problems and, indeed, that it is one of the more enlightened sectors.

However, almost one-fifth of the males questioned highlighted what they believed to be positive discrimination towards women, particularly younger women.

63 per cent of the male respondents, from across all sub-sectors, pointed to individual examples of their own female line managers and other women in senior posts throughout the Scottish media and communication sector as evidence of there being few, if any, barriers to women’s career progression.

Just one male respondent was aware of an incident when a woman in the Scottish media and communication sector had been paid less than a man for carrying out the same work.

Ten male interviewees also noted that any gender pay differences would be difficult to identify, as individuals within the media and communication sector tend not to discuss their own earnings.

The majority of the male respondents believed that there were no gender differences in terms and conditions. Rather, that terms and conditions are based largely on experience, time served, and the duties and responsibilities of individual jobs.

Only 11 per cent of the male respondents appeared to be convinced of the need for gender equality policies in the Scottish sector, not only in terms of good practice, but also for legislative purposes, particularly to avoid any potential charges of negligence.

Over half (57 per cent) of the male respondents, from across all sub-sectors, believe that maintaining a work-life balance in the Scottish media and communication sector can be extremely difficult for both men and women. A major factor here is the unsociable hours demanded by the industries.

Throughout 2004 Aberdeen Business School, part of The Robert Gordon University, has been conducting extensive research into the Scottish media and communications sector to find out to what extent the industry is still troubled by issues of gender inequality.

The research project was spearheaded by Professor Rita Marcella, Lorraine Illingworth, Graeme Baxter and Dr Fiona Smith and the findings of their extensive research project may raise a few eyebrows.

The Robert Gordon University is currently recruiting participants to continue with the research. If, after reading this article you are interested in taking part in either a case study or a focus group, contact the research team on 01224 263 477.

To join the virtual discussion forum, visit http://campus.rgu.com/womeninmedia.


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