By Michelle Olson, APR

Gender equality remains a critical issue affecting millions of women worldwide. And the media are perpetuating stereotypes that keep women fighting for change. But how? How do they build on the negative with so much discussion to counter it? That’s the interesting part. 

Global communications firm Llorente & Cuenca (LLYC)’s report, “Nameless Women“, found overwhelmingly that women in the workplace continue to face discrimination, prejudice, and fewer opportunities than their male counterparts, which ultimately affects their social and economic progress. These inequities are being perpetuated worldwide by the profession we all hope would cover the news without bias and discrimination…journalists.  

LLYC analyzed 14 million news stories containing explicit mention of the subject’s gender published in the last year. This covered more than 78,000 sources of information from 12 countries (The United States, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Portugal, and Spain). It subdivided research into eight main topics – technology, economy, events, sports, society, environment, culture, and health – and examined the three most outstanding reference groups regarding female prominence, historical evolution and variability in isolation vs. the average. These groups were science, sports, and public safety (police, military and armed forces), which were examined over a 5-year period and compared to profiles of leaders in business, politics and journalism from a previous study. They analyzed more than 200,000 news items for each group, evaluating perceptual aspects such as leadership, team, success, failure, values, and attributes.  

Lastly, LLYC manually analyzed five years of news associated with the referents and leaders. Here is what they found:  

  1. Women are underrepresented in the media, with men being covered in the news 2.5 times more than women. This reinforces a common hypothesis that men hold a considerably larger presence in our society’s collective mind.  
  2. Women are often left nameless, with their names being left out of headlines 21% more than men on average, and 40% less on topics like sports, science, leadership, and film. 
  3. Females are classified, and gender is mentioned 2.3 times more often for women than men, reinforcing the view that it is not normal for women to take on a gender-marked role and “othering” those who do. On topics most frequently covered by male journalists, such as sports and the economy, 98% of articles on women include the classifier. In politics, 80% of the stories are gender marked. 
  4. Men author more articles associated with economics, politics, technology, and sports 50% more often than women, who more frequently write about culture, health and society. 
  5. Business articles on women mention their families 366% more often than business articles on men. Moreover, these mentions are objectifying. If a woman is the subject of a story, she is “X’s wife” 10% more often than she is “married to X.” The term “wife” appears more often than “husband” or “spouse” and men are seen to have some sort of ownership of their wives.  
  6. Fashion choices are reflected in 1 out of every 25 stories about women, 20% more often than coverage about men. 
  7. Reports on gender-based violence continue to focus on victims rather than aggressors. Women victims are named almost three times more often than their male aggressors in stories about violence, and twice as often in stories about harassment. 
  8. Only 1 in 20 news stories on sports mention women. For example, stories on soccer that do not mention gender assume the subject is male 95% of the time. 
  9. Being good is not enough. Women must be exceptional to garner news coverage. Media mentions of women frequently focus solely on them as successful and outstanding. When only outstanding achievements are newsworthy and no “middle of the road” is ever acknowledged, noteworthy women are portrayed as perfect. This feeds into imposter syndrome, insecurity, and burnout among women. 

So what does this mean?  

As a career public relations professional, I’ve seen decades of examples from around the globe that media coverage can drive change. So, my hypothesis is this: the more our working journalists accurately and fairly depict women in the media, the faster we will see equality in how women are treated at work and in life. Let’s just get it right, right now.