Women in Leadership

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2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Not only is it an important event, but it presents a chance to think about women leaders in community media.

When the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, it was the result of decades of protest. Picketing, assaults by police, and quiet demonstrations against social constraints are documented instances since at least 1820. Women such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott led the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, and the vote was central to the women’s rights movement. By 1917, women were holding rallies at the White House and conflicts escalated. Congress would act on the amendment and it would be ratified three years later.

Where are we as a culture and an industry? If newsrooms are any indication, there is a lot of room for improvement. Pew Research recently issued a look at diversity and found newsrooms were less diverse than the nation. “More than three-quarters (77 percent) of newsroom employees – those who work as reporters, editors, photographers and videographers in the newspaper, broadcasting and internet publishing industries – are non-Hispanic whites. […] That is true of 65 percent of U.S. workers in all occupations and industries combined.”

These figures note 61 percent of those in news are men. Men comprise 53 percent of the overall workforce.

How can community radio stations offer better support to women leaders? How can your community media organization attract women early in their careers? How can you contribute to a station culture that is inclusive rather than excludes new voices? Here are a few insights:

  • Women leaders new to the role and early-career staff can sometimes get called in to clean up a mess or fix an organization’s broken culture. The problem is such “battlefield promotions” don’t come with bigger commitments to these leaders by boards to enhance their roles as well as make things better. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t let your love for a station blind you from thinking about your needs long term. There are a few requests you can make before taking such a battlefield promotion, so you can become the leader you want to be and address any organization needs.
  • Christa Scharfenberg of the Center for Investigative Reporting remarks that organizations must prioritize creating cultures that show greater respect for women. “There’s some truth to the stereotype that women often bring a more collaborative approach to leadership. [I have been] accused of being too collaborative, often by men who equate leadership with decisiveness above all else. I’ve decided to respond by being totally decisive about my commitment to being collaborative.” She offers a blueprint for organizations interested in supporting women’s leadership.
  • Maybe you personally can help others by putting your time into creating support networks for women new to leadership. “When you’re thinking through what you need and what you can offer, notice what comes naturally and what feels more challenging,” writes Jennifer Mizgata, to those wanting to help. Creating initiatives that support leaders are valuable nevertheless.
  • Attracting early-career leaders means actively trying to involve more than just the familiar faces or those we are used to being in positions of power. Try making an equitable icebreaker. When you introduce members of your community to each other, how can you design a get-to-know-you exercise that is fun and inclusive? The Face to Face Center gathers a Google Doc of resources for meeting people in new and inclusive ways.
  • It’s time for some stations to check their privilege. This is especially true when it comes to making leadership an on-the-job experience. This expectation inherently leaves out younger talent and historically disenfranchised groups that stations oftentimes want to attract. Irving Washington believes organizations must make development a priority. “One of my mentors said that one of the first jobs a great leader does is to find the person who will replace them. Newsrooms will need to find future leadership replacements collectively across the field and give those individuals training, resources, and support now — not later. The world is becoming more diverse at all different levels and communities will expect that our newsrooms do the same. It’s also how people start to feel better about local news.” 

NFCB has been at the forefront of conversations on media diversity and inclusion, including past conferences, training sessions, and gatherings for women in leadership. NFCB also posts regularly on a variety of organizational capacity matters impacting community media. You can get weekly updates from our website by subscribing for free here.

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