Women journalists shared their working life experiences at an event as part of the NUJs Stronger Voice for Women in the Media project held at the University of Strathclyde.
The common theme emerging from all speakers was that women shouldn’t be on their own when challenging employment, sexism and equality issues and that they should support each other wherever they worked.
Dr Sallyanne Duncan, head of the postgraduate studies in digital journalism at Strathclyde, opened the event by pointing out that 54 per cent of journalism students were female. “Women dominate journalism in education, but what happens after is a different story,” she said.
NUJ Scottish assistant organiser Dominic Bascombe told how his first case as an NUJ official was fighting for a woman to get time off to breastfeed her baby. Since then he has handled countless cases involving equality issues.
Trisha Hamilton, head of the communications team at UNISON Scotland, previously worked for a public sector organisation where she found out a man in her team, who she managed, earned £7,000 a year more than her, but her employers tried to deny this was the case and refused to pay her the same and backdate the money until she started legal action.
She said she couldn’t have got through it without the support of the NUJ, especially when she felt under pressure by her employers to drop her claim, even being told: “the union didn’t pay her wages”. Once the company finally accepted she was owed an extra £7,000 a year, backdated, she took great delight in telling them she was quitting to go and work for another trade union, so the union would be paying her wages.
Claire Sawers, a freelance journalist spoke of the pros and cons of life as a precarious worker which included forming her own support network of other journalists and people with other skills and trading these skills. But not having a regular salary paid into the bank, frantic juggling of finances to avoid or cut down bank charges and the hassle of chasing for money owed and not knowing when it would be paid could be stressful.
“One of the things I love about my freelance work is I get to choose my colleagues,” she added. “We need ways to make the precarious less anxiety inducing. Being in a union helps.”
Turning to the way women are reported by the media, Fiona McKay showed results of her research into gendered media misrepresentations during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. While women were seen as being collaborative, gender was still weaponised against First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Female politicians were spoken about in terms of their bodies, while male politicians’ body language was discussed.
Writer and sub-editor Shona Craven said more and faster progress was needed to improve representation of women in the media and Women in Journalism Scotland was working on that with both BBC and STV supporting initiatives to improve female representation on TV and radio. But we shouldn’t lose sight of how far we had already come; everyday sexism, as opposed to the outrageous “Brexit/legs-it” variety – was reducing.
“The editors may still mostly be men, but women journalists are by no means powerless to challenge practices such as referring to adult women as girls or allowing murder victims to be described as ‘pretty’ in news reports. And it should not be assumed they will meet resistance when they do – male editors are not all dinosaurs, and in fact some of them are strong feminist allies,” she pointed out.
Key points identified include the absence of women of colour in the media, meaning there were no role models for future generations, and a failure to address additional issues affecting women of colour; the lack of women in senior positions even in sectors where women outnumbered men such as broadcasting; the confidence of women to ask for a pay rise; and the potential impact of gender pay gap reporting on equal pay cases. Involving women freelances who could often feel isolated with problems hidden or unheard was also raised, along with improving representation of freelances and casuals on chapels and committees, along with the need for diversity training.
The event was part of a project funded via the STUC through the Trade Union, Fair Work and Modernisation Fund to improve equality and working conditions and representation of women in the media. Future events and workshops are planned focusing on particular areas in greater depth. If you would like a particular subject matter relating to women and the media covered at a future event or would like an event held where you are, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org