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Media industry evolution can help boost female participation

08:00am June 26 2023

Natarsha Belling began her career in the media over 25 years ago, and has had a front-row seat to the evolving industry. (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

The evolution of the media industry in the social media age provides an opportunity to employ more women, say experts, after data showed they continue to be under-represented.

A report by the not-for-profit group Women in Media in February found that 57 per cent of bylines were written by men in 2022. While that’s an overall improvement from 69 per cent in 2016, the report still found men dominating in sectors such as sports, with 82 per cent of bylines, and finance (63 per cent).

Meanwhile, men accounted for 70 per cent of quoted sources, with a similarly high figure for those cited in media as experts (66 per cent).

That lack of representation could help to explain why women are increasingly turning off mainstream news. Research from the University of Canberra found that the gender gap in news consumption in Australia was among the widest compared with international peers.

“I wanted to follow a career in journalism because I fundamentally believe in the important role of the media and journalism in democratic society,” said Natarsha Belling, speaking on a panel for Women of Westpac’s annual summit in June, which brought together over 1,600 Westpac employees across Australia. 

It’s still a struggle for women to get ahead in the industry, said Belling, who began her career at Prime TV over 25 years ago and is now one of Australia’s most experienced and respected journalists.

“I try and have as strong a voice as I can in the newsroom, to make sure that around the decision-making table, there are always lots of different voices from different nationalities, age-groups and genders."

Belling’s co-panellist, Zara Seidler, is hoping she can help to bring about positive change.

“Newsrooms and media across the country need to be transforming, changing and reflecting the people they are supposed to be serving,” said Seidler. “No longer can we have an all-white, male newsroom.”

Seidler is co-founder of The Daily Aus, a media channel for the social media age which aims to service Gen Z’s insatiable appetite for digestible and engaging news experiences.

Zara Seidler, co-founder of The Daily Aus. (Supplied)

“We came into the industry thinking, ‘this doesn’t work for us.’ We wanted to smash preconceptions of who can consume the media,” said Seidler, whose platform now boasts a following of almost half a million on Instagram, the primary medium for its bite-sized news reporting.

Many of us are increasingly turning to platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to consume news, and that’s especially the case among women, who spend an average of 391 minutes per week on social media, compared to the 287 minutes spent by men.

Belling believes this trend can help to open new doors for women in the industry.

“Social media has brought important stories to the conventional newsroom,” said Belling. “For example, we had to fight for stories about menopause or endometriosis as important medical topics just 15-20 years ago.”

She also welcomes the democratisation of news brought about by the growth of social media and podcasting.

“When world events unfold, sometimes the message is controlled by organisations. Social media and podcasts have given a platform for us to tell stories and peoples’ experiences in ways we’ve never seen before.”

But often, women aren’t as respected as storytellers, and this is a barrier to more women engaging enthusiastically with the news. 

“The intersection of my age and my gender has meant that no one takes me seriously when it comes to the rest of the industry,” said Seidler.

Belling agreed. “Because of this, as women, we tend to second guess ourselves. We aren’t the greatest advocates for ourselves sometimes.”

It’s a sentiment that was echoed by keynote speaker at the summit, author and deputy managing director of Future Women, Jamila Rizvi.

“Women, held back by the system from day one, are also left with the impossible trade-off between being liked and being successful. The result is gender bias that’s firmly taken root inside our own heads. A bias that manifests itself as an inner voice that tells us we’re not good enough.”

A 2020 study by KPMG found that up to 75 per cent of female executives report having personally experienced imposter syndrome – a psychological trait where people feel inadequate or not sufficiently qualified for their role – at certain points in their career.

“The data tells us that a bloke is more likely to declare that he can do something and then just get on with it at work. He assumes that he will land on his feet because millions of men like him have done so before,” said Rizvi. 

“History tells him he’s going to be a success, so why shouldn’t he be? Women do not move through the world with the same benefit because until very recently the story of humanity was entirely controlled by men.”

When asked what a future with more representation for women in the media looks like, both Seidler and Belling say that the conversation needs to include men.

“Every time I’m speaking on International Women’s Day, it’s to a room of women, who very much know that there’s a gender pay gap, and know the lived experience of being dismissed,” said Seidler.

“We need to build an allyship with men because it’s our combined best interest to have the best people at the top, and we know that this includes women and different minority groups.”

“So many structures have been built up to divide us, it’s time to start finding allies in the workplace who can advocate alongside you for gender equity.”

“Some of my greatest advocates I’ve had in my career have been men,” Belling agreed.

“The bottom line is that most key decision makers in this world are men,” she noted, with men occupying 70 per cent of key management positions in average Australian workplaces according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

“They need to be at the table – it’s not a war, it’s about getting the best results for everyone.”

In response to media under-representation and imposter syndrome, the Women in Media Gender Scorecard report is calling on organisations to invest in training female sources, especially in the areas of retail, sport, and finance, where spokeswomen are particularly under-represented.

And when it comes to silencing that inner voice, Rizvi says that we need to keep unlearning.

“The world can’t keep waiting for women to be perfect.” 

Kripa Krithivasan joined Westpac Wire in 2022 as a News Reporter. After starting her career at Westpac in 2016, Kripa took some time off to host one of Australia’s most popular podcasts for South Asian Australians, Uncultured the Podcast, and is passionate about giving marginalised voices a platform. When she’s not at work, Kripa dabbles in a bit of stand-up comedy and Bharatnatyam - classical Indian dance.

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