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Absence of Women in Top Media Jobs Must Be Addressed

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Two of the greatest newspapers in the world, the New York Times and Le Monde, have lost their female editors within 24 hours of each other this week. Coincidence, of course. But also a salutary reminder of how few women are at the top of important media.

This matters not just for reasons to do with discrimination, but also because editors are hugely influential on everyday lives.

The media is generally a well-balanced business in gender terms. There are plenty of talented women reporting and editing. The problem is that not many are running editorial policy as the ultimate person responsible. Carla Buzasi, Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post UK, is a rare example in this country.

Jill Abramson at the New York Times and Natalie Nougayrede at Le Monde were also the first women ever to run their respective organisations, two of just a handful of world-class newspapers that can lay claim to be journals of record.

It scarcely matters why both women have gone: Doubtless there were judgements made, decisions reached, rebellions threatened, alliances broken. There will be plenty of comment and conjecture about each. What is important is what is left behind; that sense of a blow to women's grasp on top jobs everywhere.

A recent study found that female CEOs globally were far more likely to lose their jobs than men. There is now talk of the 'glass cliff' replacing the 'glass ceiling'. Are women really breaching male bastions only to be ejected once they get there?

Nobody should keep their job simply because they represent a minority, although it is interesting how many commentators have noted that Abramson has been replaced by the first ever African-American to be given the top job at the New York Times. Women, we should perhaps remind ourselves, are not in fact a minority.

Neither should we be nudged by commentators, however well meaning, into seeing senior positions in the somewhat patronising terms of either gender or race. Persistence, hard-work and talent should be oblivious to all that these days. Discriminations do not cancel each other out.

The media, of all businesses, really has no excuses, especially as it adapts to an age of 'citizen journalism' and free news content, for failing to be obviously representative of the world it reports and seeks to represent.

The lack of female bosses is also just plain puzzling. Women make up 37 per cent of newspaper employees in the United States whilst only 10 per cent are in "supervisory or upper management positions", according to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The same is probably true in the UK.

It is not just about giving successful women an even break in free, non-autocratic democracies, but about what that does to how news is reported, which in turn shapes attitudes and policy.

News is not an absolute. Whilst news media may not be able to choose some topics, such as the results of a General Election or the naming of a new Pope, editors exercise enormous choice over the vast majority of what is published.

What will be reported, campaigned for and prioritised with space, are all chosen. That is what makes top editors so powerful. They call the shots. News is not just, in the old adage, what someone, somewhere does not want to see in print. It is actually often what one person does want to see there: The editor.

An important consequence to the lack of women running the media is gender visibility. The Global Media Monitoring Project in 2010 found that just 24 per cent of people seen, heard or read about in mainstream media were women. This is a shocking statistic.

Just because two newspapers have lost their first ever female editors within a few years of each being appointed is a coincidence does not lessen the unsettling consequences.

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