I was shocked but not surprised to learn in a report on women in the media that male journalists completely dominate their female counterparts, writing 78% of all front-page articles examined and accounting for 84% of those mentioned or quoted in lead pieces.
On work experience placements I've observed senior-level boardroom conferences at the Times, the Guardian and the Sunday Times. At each of them the male:female ratio averaged at about 11:2. In the boardrooms themselves the men were far more forthright in discussions and women spoke - and were heard - less. Women are clearly under-represented in the media and in journalism, but the question is why. Why do less women get bylines, less women appear in broadcasts and less women make it to boardroom level only to be heard less once they reach it?
I argue that this isn't down to some deep-seated intrinsic misogyny but more a case of psychology, and how men and women subconsciously interact with each other. During the first week of my journalism M.A. at City University, I noticed that despite the women being equally as intimidating on paper as the men, the latter seemed far more confident about speaking up in our class of fifty, and although the male:female ratio is slightly more balanced at around 30:20, I couldn't help comparing it to the newspaper boardroom scenes I'd witnessed so many times.
In a discussion with some of the men on my course I put it to them that maybe they speak up more in the classroom (and therefore the workplace and boardroom) more than women because they think differently. Men generally have a tendency to think first and act second, whereas with women it's the opposite, or, as we put it in the pub, "Men care less about looking like a tw*t for a few seconds than women do". The nanoseconds it takes to make a decision on whether to say something in a discussion is crucial before the topic rolls on, but in this time women may subconsciously consider their contribution as well as what the what the implications of making it are, by which point it's too late to have their say.
In addition to men and women thinking differently, there is the obvious impact of the fairer sex generally being fairer voiced. Humans naturally hear- and listen- to a voice that is deep, loud, low and slow, so in a racing debate it's easy to see how a higher-pitched, softer, quieter and faster-speaking voice could be drowned out or ignored. I also think there's something in the psychology of appearance and work-wear. The man's suit, subconsciously, is a power symbol, both to himself when he puts it to enter the work-place arena and to those around him. Women's work wear is wishy-washy to the point of insignificance, with no clear definition between work wear and other-wear, which creates a degree of uncertainty both visually and in the mind.
So what's the solution? Slip on a man's suit and start boorishly shouting your opinions every few seconds? Not exactly, but I would advocate a variation on that, by psychologically squaring up to the men. Women should take a chance on speaking out more, as well as slowing down the pace of speech and lowering the tone of voice. High heels don't just make legs look amazing, they also give an added few inches and men hate it when women are taller than them, let alone when they are forced to literally look up to them.
I told my male colleagues early on in the course that my intention was to speak up in discussions as much as them, as terrifying as it is, because my motto is "fake it 'til you make it". I hope that after a year of discussions in front of fifty people, I'll become more articulate and will learn to present my opinions cogently and forcefully, so that if I ever make it to boardroom level at a newspaper, men - and women - will sit up and listen to what I have to say.
It's in women's hands to shift their unfair under-representation in the media. Deliver that pitch. Have your say. Argue your case. Get that byline. Speak your mind. Louder, better, faster, taller, stronger. Projecting an air of confidence which we may not feel is half the battle won.