“Women are at least 10 years behind men in this industry, and women of color will be 10 or more years behind us.”
Having this strong assertion directed at me by a Boston Globe editor during a journalists’ conference for the American Newspaper Association was hard to digest. It was a terse summary of the gender and racial inequality in U.S. newsrooms in the 1970s.
I couldn’t ignore the fact I was often the first or only woman in various settings throughout my career. Early on as a journalist, I found that women in newsrooms earned 49 cents for every dollar that our male counterparts were paid. My colleagues and I were first generation female reporters. In fact, there were no female editors or managers in my newsroom. There wasn’t even a women’s restroom on the entire floor. Luckily, this was corrected when someone reimagined the broom closet as a ladies’ room. If only changing organizational culture came as quickly.
Women have been fighting for their rights throughout most of American history. Early on wifedom and motherhood were regarded as women’s most significant roles, and the place for them was designated as the home. Since the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, the battle for the inalienable rights of women has been waged.
The 20th century saw a major shift when women in most nations got the right to vote. Women in the voting booth led the way out of the home and into the workplace. They championed the idea that women should have equal rights to men.
However, gender equality has been elusive. The climb up the corporate ladder has been a particularly onerous endeavor.
While corporate America is cognizant of the fact that women are underrepresented in senior management roles, at this point there is more talk than action. We have seen some improvement in the last 10 years. In fact, progress has occurred slowly over decades, but the gender gap still remains. The communications industry has been particularly slow.
When I entered the field, I knew there were few female reporters, but I did not know the reason. Learning that the fourth estate was labeled “a man’s world” was intriguing. This brought back memories of literature classes where female writers used initials or male names to get books published. Some women journalists used the same tactics. However, I proudly used my name as my byline.
When I arrived at that conference in Boston, my first professional conference as a journalist, I was ecstatic about representing a top 10 newspaper in the country, meeting colleagues who would share knowledge and experiences, and attending a session on women in media. I left determined to take full-scale advantage of the opportunities presented to me and be the best journalist that I could be.
A steadfast focus on excellence and the encouragement of so many other enterprising women supported me through a gratifying career as a media executive. Now, as executive director of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, I lean on this same support and consciously provide it to others. Diversity is still an issue in newsrooms and boardrooms across the country, but enterprising women are making their mark and moving forward in the spirit of excellence.