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American Journalism Review
Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling  | American Journalism Review
From AJR,   December 1998

Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling   

ASNE's female membership is making steady gains, reflecting more women in senior decision-making positions. It stands at 17 percent, with 140 women among 858 members. Ten years ago, only 8 percent were women.

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D EBORAH HOWELL REMEMBERS HAVING SO FEW female colleagues in the American Society of Newspaper Editors that, at annual conferences, they all could have fit in a phone booth. ``Now," the editor of Newhouse News Service exults, ``we meet in a big room with lots of people."
Women are definitely making inroads in newsroom management, says Howell, who is also the Newhouse chain's Washington bureau chief and was executive editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press from 1984 to 1990. But there's still a long way to go.
Today, women run 13 of the 103 daily newspapers with circulation exceeding 100,000, according to ASNE figures. Two other women head large newspaper groups in California. Only two women rank among leaders of the nation's 20 largest papers.
Whether women with management aspirations hit a ``glass ceiling" at many U.S. newspapers remains a question of no small concern to newsroom diversity advocates. ``Obviously, there has not been enough overall progress," says Dallas Morning News Executive Editor Gilbert Bailon, who chairs ASNE's diversity committee. In October, when ASNE updated its long-range newsroom diversity plan, it called for women to be added to the annual census of minorities.
Bailon blames the ``comfort factor," among other problems. Publishers look for top editors in whom they can place ``complete trust at many different levels." Most publishers are male and relate more readily to other men, he says.
Joy Cook, former president of the Journalism and Women Symposium, wrote to its 450 members that ``women are entering newsrooms with greater ease. A majority of journalism graduates are women.... But the glass ceiling is real, the flexibility for families elusive. The story is doubly harsh for women of color." No big newspaper is led by a minority female, ASNE reports.
Lee Stinnett, ASNE's executive director, says women continue to be underrepresented in newsrooms (about 37 percent in 1997), and the numbers in senior management reflect that disparity. But like Howell, he thinks the situation is improving, particularly at smaller newspapers.
``With more women in the pipeline who have the kind of necessary experience, we can assume that this number will grow over time," Stinnett says. ``It's evolutionary."
ASNE's female membership is making steady gains, reflecting more women in senior decision-making positions. It stands at 17 percent, with 140 women among 858 members. Ten years ago, only 8 percent were women.
Women appear to have a greater chance of rising to the top at newspapers with firm diversity goals. The Knight Ridder chain, for example, claims three of those 13 top female editors. And Gannett has sought out women to run many of its small to mid-size newspapers.
Chances for advancement increase if a woman with aspirations finds a mentor--male or female--to coach her, many female managers say.
Sandra Mims Rowe of Portland's Oregonian considers training and coaching a professional mandate. The challenge, she says, is convincing women to value their own management skills and to aggressively pursue big jobs.
Some who've made the climb wonder whether the ``glass ceiling" phenomenon has its roots in historic male bias or in the goals and limitations set by newspaper-women themselves. The business is demanding, Howell observes, ``and if you can't commit yourself beyond a certain point it is very difficult to take these jobs."
Seventy-hour work weeks are not unusual among editors interviewed for this story.
Sacrifice often accompanies advancement, New York Times Metropolitan Editor Joyce Purnick suggested in a controversial commencement speech last May at Barnard College. Purnick told graduates that a key to her own success in journalism was her decision to ``forfeit" the chance to have children. She added that, with rare exception, ``women who have children get off the track and lose ground."
Purnick clarified those remarks in a meeting with about three dozen staffers angry at the implication that women with children were less committed as journalists. And she later told the Washington Post that the speech was largely about her regrets about ``not having a family." Her point was that family decisions have professional consequences.
Orange County Register Editor Tonnie Katz says that women in management certainly are willing to put in the hours to move ahead and that their ``dedication and commitment is absolutely equal" to that of male managers. Curiously, she finds that it's more often male staffers who come to her with complaints about job demands.
``Men want lives now," Katz says. ``They want to go home and see their children." Janet Leach of the Akron Beacon Journal is typical in that she juggles the often-conflicting demands of career and family. She joined the list of top female editors in March, after Knight Ridder recruited her from the managing editor's post at Gannett's Cincinnati Enquirer.
At 43, with three young children, she credits her husband with giving her the freedom to consider Knight Ridder's offer. He was willing to ``take away time from his [environmental planning] career to take care of the girls for the summer."
As aspiring women editors pursue their goals, Leach and others say, family support is as essential to a promotion as a brilliant resumÄ or dazzling editing talent. Many women with management potential still sit on the sidelines when top jobs open up, so overwhelmed by the demands of home and family that they cannot imagine taking on more responsibility.
Until that changes, say those who watch newspapering trends, the numbers are unlikely to improve.



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