Notes on Diversity & Innovation (2)

Why Diversity is About More Than Just Gender

Anita Zielina is director of innovation and leadership at Craig Newmark School of Journalism in New York and will now be a regular contributor to FemaleOneZero. In her new column she writes about diversity beyond gender

One of the first meetings I had when I started my new job in New York touched on the topic of diversity – in this case, how diverse the faculty teaching a certain program was. I took my typical Western European standpoint and said, “Yes, I can see that the number of women in the program is nearly 50 percent,” and got the answer, “This is not what we mean when we talk about diversity.” I quickly learned that in the US notion, “diversity” means much more than just gender parity – the conversation also includes race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, or religious and political beliefs.

In most European countries, diversity policy debates have a narrow perspective, covering just the topic of gender equality and leaving out all the other dimensions. And, as it often is the case, public policy shapes the decision making in private companies, too. Never in my years in management roles in Austrian, German, and Swiss media companies have I once encountered a diversity debate in boardrooms that went further than discussing the female ratio in certain areas of leadership.

Stupid jokes instead of real discussions about real diversity

To be honest, even the conversations about gender diversity on this level can be counted on one hand, and I sadly can’t think of a single one that did not have someone at the table, mostly a more established male manager, feeling obliged to make a stupid joke. In Europe, the number of women on boards over all industries is still abysmal, which means that not only are we not having the broad inclusion debate we should be having, we also can’t show success in the one area we decided to focus on – the gender area.

It is especially alarming when media companies, of all industries, don’t act on this. Even in the age of social media, they still play a big role in shaping the perception of reality, and if they are biased, this bias is what they will recreate.

Some recent numbers from the States show that while women outnumber men in journalism programs and in colleges, they represent just 41.7 percent of newsroom employees, according to the 2018 diversity survey by the American Society of News Editors. And it’s so much worse on the leadership level; of all English-language papers in the US, 73 percent of editors are male and nine in ten are white.

Diversity and media industry

Europe is not doing much better; in the European media industry, still hardly any women, people of color, and people from less affluent social-economic backgrounds come into higher leadership positions.

The reality is that white, middle to upper-class men make the news – both in Europe and the US. If we are to become the equal society that we aspire to or pretend to be, then we need to work on this.

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