‘Women don’t have what it takes’
‘The job is too risky for you’

These are things a girl is bound to here when she expresses an interest in journalism. For a great period of time, journalism remained exclusively a man’s job. Eventually women did venture in and when they did, they faced sexist discrimination. They were often side-lined to cover ‘women’s topics’ such as food, fashion, family and furniture. Fast forward to the 21st century and things don’t look very bright. Even today, journalists like Barkha Dutt complain of a gendering of opportunities. To break through the stereotypes, women are forced to work twice as hard, yet receive substandard entitlements.

Female journalists are targeted for the work they do, as well as for their gender. The challenges they face are hybrids of both these aspects. Since journalism has a crucial importance in democracy and society at large, the challenges that women face are exacerbated as they are exposed to the larger misogyny of the public. Here are some of the prominent challenges erected against female journalists.

Under-representation of women

Un Women, citing a study called The Global Media Monitoring Project that spanned 20 years across 114 countries, states that as of 2015 only 24 per cent of the persons seen, heard or read about in a newspaper, television and radio news are women. There is a striking imbalance in gender representation and it perpetuates a skewed image of media as a boy’s club. Moreover, women are ghettoised during prime time coverage where viewership is at its maximum. According to The European Platform of Regulatory Authorities (EPRA), in France women representation drops to 29% during peak hours.

With journalism being acclaimed as the fourth pillar of democracy, gender inclusivity becomes all the more essential. Gender imbalanced portrayal of the fourth estate reaffirms existing stereotypes and widens the gender gap in women’s participation. It is without doubt that organisations must make sincere efforts in increasing women participation beyond the limits of tokenism. However, the fact remains that merely increasing the number of women does not uproot workplace sexism such as gender pay gap, discrimination in assignments and the glass ceiling.

The glass-ceiling

Glass ceiling is a term coined in 1986 by a column in the Wall Street Journal. It refers to a barrier in a person’s career growth stemming from organisational bias or prejudice. It is identified as a restrictive system that hinders women and members of ethnic minorities from climbing up the ladder. The discriminatory practices in work cultures, from which journalism is not exempt, fails to admit women into the upper echelons of the field.

It is believed that most women journalists are unable to break the glass ceiling because they quit their jobs after having kids. The demanding nature of journalistic work is tough on work-life balance. Without sufficient time to discharge the ‘caregiver’ duties at home, most women experience pressure from their families and ultimately resign their positions. Social norms hold only women in charge of caregiving, as a result of which their career becomes dispensable.

Leadership Gap

The representation of women in leadership roles continues to be a major feminist concern. A factsheet by Reuters, 2020 analysing 200 major offline and online news outlets points out that only 20% among the sample had women editors. In Japan, none of the major news outlets under consideration had a woman editor.
Most organisations across the corporate world still consider cis men as default leaders. Stereotyped masculinity is considered more capable and hence befitting of leadership roles. If women are appointed, it is most often a case of the glass cliff or of companies having a circumstantial preference for stereotypical female straits in leadership roles. Either way, women are discriminated against. What surprises most is that, as the factsheet reports, even countries such as South Korea and Germany which have fared well in the UN Gender Inequality Index have very few women in editorial roles.

Gender Pay Gap

In early 2020, Samira Ahmed, the Newswatch presenter won an employment tribunal against BBC. The accusation was that Jeremy Vine, her male counterpart, was paid £3000 per episode as opposed to Ahmed’s remuneration of £440. The tribunal agreed that the broadcaster had no convincing evidence to justify the disparity. It was a clear case of gender discrimination.

Gender pay gap is an issue that women encounter across professions. Even in jobs that are considered traditionally female, like nursing, men earn higher. This attitudinal bias asserts that men are the primary bread winners and it affects women severely. In addition to unfair compensation of work, pay gaps also translate to limited savings and weaker retirement funds for women.

To counter the disparity, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) had launched the global campaign #PayMeEqual on International Women’s Day 2021 to advocate equal pay for women journalists. The BBC, under former director general Tony Hall had set out to close the gender gap by 2020. Though they had failed to achieve the target, Tim Davie, Hall’s replacement, believe they should be proud of the progress.


It is well known that ethical journalism takes a lot of courage and is done at the risk of retortive violence, verbal and/or physical. When it comes to women journalists, the threats become more sexually targeted. A report released by Reporters Without Borders in March 2021, concluded that female journalists fear working in nearly 40 countries and that they cite sexual harassment as the most prominent threat they face in their home countries.

In response to an international survey fielded by the International Centre for Journalists and UNESCO, 73% of the female respondents stated that they had encountered online abuse and harassment. For 20% of them the threats had concretised to physical attacks. The pandemic has worsened things. In what is being termed ‘shadow pandemic’, the rise in violence against women during Covid-19 period exacerbates the online violence encountered by women journalists.
Even if online threats don’t spill over to physical violence, the abusive and misogynist backlash faced by female journalists affect their mental health. Some journalists even turn to therapy to deal with it. Such constant misogyny and inimical treatment discourage a lot of women from venturing into the profession, furthering the gender gap.

It is disheartening that journalism continues to be looked at as an unsuitable career for women, part on account of safety and part on stereotype. Despite the hostile challenges and threats, accomplished journalists such as Faye D’souza, Nidhi Razdhan and Neha Dixit push the boundaries set by organised sexism and continue to inspire many aspiring journalists. It is truly empowering to realise that they assert their voices in a system that persists in its attempt to silence them.