‘Mates over Merit’: The Women in Media Report

“As a senior manager I know my male counterparts get paid more for the same work.”

– Radio manager, years of experience not disclosed


A recent survey by Women in Media has sadly confirmed what many women in the media already knew. We are working in a

blokey culture that rewards ‘mates over merit’. It’s one that ‘tolerates sexual harassment and abuse, pays lip service to work-family balance, and perpetuates the gender pay gap.’

The Women in Media report is a landmark survey and was developed by the national steering committee of Women in Media and researcher Beverley Uther; conducted by iSentia. It collected data from 1054 Australian journalists between September and December 2015, with 91.8% of the respondents being women.

According to the survey:

*Discrimination remains rife, with policies “on paper, not in practice” – only 11% of respondents rated them “very effective”.
*41% of women said they’d been harassed, bullied or trolled on social media, while engaging with audiences; several were silenced, or changed career.
*Only 16% of respondents were aware of their employer’s strategies to deal with threats.
*Almost half (48%) said they’d experienced intimidation, abuse or sexual harassment in the workplace.
*A quarter of the women who’d taken maternity leave said they’d been discriminated against, upon return to work. Some said they’d been put on the ‘mummy track’.
*One in three (34%) said they didn’t feel confident to speak up about discrimination.
*There’s evidence of an entrenched gender pay gap (reinforced by research from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency of a 23.3% gap in the sector).

“Outdated attitudes and ineffective policies are holding women back from making their fullest and most creative contribution to the media landscape, at a time when innovation, diversity and new ways of thinking are desperately needed to help our industry transition and meet the challenges of a new digital era,” Katelin McInerney, director of MEAA’s Media section said. “While we have secured some improvements, media companies have been slow to adopt pay transparency, superannuation during parental leave, and dedicated family violence leave.”

The Gender Pay Gap is higher in the Media. 

The survey revealed only 2% of women surveyed said there was equal pay for equal work in their organisations.

“I recently discovered I am being paid 35% less than a man in the same position.”

– Publisher, online, 11-15 years experience

Unfortunately the vast majority, in fact 81% of respondents, acknowledged there was a gender pay gap. We know from Telecommunications Industry sector Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) it is 23.3%. This is a whole 5% above the 17.3% average gender pay gap identified by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Astoundingly in the female-dominated workplaces of magazine and periodical publishing, there’s still a 12.9% gender pay gap. It’s 23.2% in newspapers and 21.8% in broadcasting.

And few companies are actually taking steps to remedy this situation.

The MEAA is calling for pay audits and goals on addressing the gender pay gap.

“A male colleague I started with as a trainee told me when he hit a six figure salary. We’re just as experienced and capable. I am far from six figures.”

– In-house journalist, print, 11-15 years

Only 12.5% of Australian newspaper publishers have conducted a remuneration gap analysis in the past 12 months. Yet none of them have specific pay equity objectives in their formal policies.

Meanwhile the same number (12.5%) of broadcasters have analysed the pay gap, yet only 42% have pay equity objectives in their formal strategies.

Around one-in-seven magazine and periodical companies (14.3%) have conducted a remuneration gap analysis. All of them (100%) have equity objectives in their policies and strategies.

“My company audited the pay rates of men and women: men were paid on average more.”

In-house journalist, print 21-25 years experience


And it doesn’t get better when you return from maternity leave

“I recently found out that a staff member who was directly below me in the management line earned exactly 19% more than me. Since I recently applied for maternity leave, this staff member has also been promoted to a senior position that had been promised to me prior to my pregnancy.”

– Editor/Producer, print, 5-10 years experience

The survey revealed one in four women experience difficulty returning to work in the media after taking parental leave. This is despite the majority of media organisations providing paid parental leave (87%) and other forms of flexible working (62%).

But it seems these policies appear to be “on paper, not in practice”. Many women reported a culture of “presenteeism” and “mummy tracking”. While other women reported they were forced to resign because they weren’t given the option to return to work part time after maternity leave.

“Mothers are limited in their career options upon returning, blatant marginalizing of part timers… women offered less money and fewer opportunities.”

– In-house journalist, print, television, radio, more than 25 years experience

These findings are in line with a 2014 report by the Australian Human Rights Commission, which found half of mothers (49%) and more than a quarter (27%) of fathers/partners experienced discrimination in the workplace during pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work.

“Workplaces need to become more flexible to accommodate the needs of men and women balancing work and family life.”

– Freelance journalist, television, more than 25 years experience

And we’d rather stay quiet.

“I have also been ‘advised’ not to go to HR if I have an issue and that my immediate boss would handle the issue. When I was bullied last year, I complained and nothing was done. Oh, that person has since been promoted.”

– Editor/Producer, print, more than 25 years experience

Sadly, one-third of women in media (34%) don’t feel confident speaking up about all of this discrimination in the workplace. A further one-third of respondents (37%) said their employer didn’t have anti-discrimination policies, or were uncertain whether they existed. Only one-in-four respondents (27%) gave a strongly positive rating, when asked about the effectiveness of such policies.

“If policies are mentioned or someone raises issues with discrimination, the topic is laughed off and treated as ‘too serious’. It’s a situation of ‘lighten up, can’t you take a joke?’ ”

– Editor/Producer, print, 5-10 years experience

 One respondent said her workplace had anti-discrimination policies, “on paper but not in practice’.

National convenor of Women in Media, Tracey Spicer, said it was disappointing there were still big barriers to women returning to work: “Media organisations are losing a wealth of talent, by failing to support all women trying to return to work. Sadly, women are leaving the industry as a result.”

She is calling for cultural change in media workplaces, so men feel more comfortable taking paternity leave.

You can hear my interview with Tracey on Radio Adelaide Breakfast right here.