Today and throughout February, I am posting brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.”
In 2013, just as I was about to retire from Gannett and daily journalism, a call came from Crystal Williams Chancellor, director of communications for the Women’s Media Center based in Washington, DC.
Here I was, just about at the end of my career in daily newspapers, thinking my professional life couldn’t get much better.
The Women’s Media Center was reviewing the report of a survey of the conditions of women in media, which “detailed persistent gender disparity in a range of media business(es) … that rank among the greatest influencers in society.” The Media Center’s goal was to provoke discussion and accountability for change, bringing more diverse options to media in content and staffing. According to the 2013 report, some of the key findings included:
- It will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in government/politics, business, entrepreneurship and nonprofits.
- By a nearly 3 to 1 margin, male front-page bylines at top newspapers outnumbered female bylines in coverage of the 2012 presidential election. Men were also far more likely to be quoted than women. Ironically, that was also the case in typical women’s issues such as coverage of abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood and women’s rights.
- On Sunday TV talk shows, only 25 percent of expert guests were female, leaving a dearth of voices and insight from women.
On the younger end of the gender media spectrum, the report cited that girls as young as age six are starting to see themselves as sex objects, based on a combination of media influence, a mother’s parenting and religion. Girls were already being objectified, making it difficult for women to overcome disparities in later years.
Crystal asked me to join a group of women who were leaders in media — newsrooms, film, advertising and public relations — to attend the March 2013 forum of the White House Council on Women and Girls. This initiative was formed by an executive order of President Barack Obama in 2009 to establish a coordinated response to issues that impact the lives of women and girls and ensure that federal programs and policies address distinctive concerns for this population, including women of color and those with disabilities.
Crystal wanted to include me in this important discussion. The meeting would be led by Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama.
Walking into the room I found the White House-branded tent card with my name and my seat at the table. (I still have that tent card, the only one I’ve ever saved.) I almost lost my breath when I saw who some of the other participants were.