What is the impact of women leadership in the media? Do we lose anything by not putting women in leadership positions in the media space? Can we make changes that ensure more women take up leadership roles in the media?

These were some of the questions addressed in the fraycollege JournalismTalks Twitter Space on Thursday 11 March 2022, where host and fraycollege CEO Paula Fray facilitated a conversation between leading women in the media space.

The Twitter Space titled “Why Women’s Leadership in Media Matters” was centred on issues facing women who work in journalism and media environments across Africa.

Fray facilitated the conversation with Sowetan Editor Nwabisa Makunga, media leader in the DRC Douce Namwezi, Women in News Africa Director Jane Godia, Namibia Media Trust Director Zoe Titus, multiple award-winning journalist Jubiel M. Zulu and fraycollege Research and Academic Head Sandra Roberts.

In opening the discussion, Fray said: “We need to create an environment in which women can thrive in media environments and a part of that is ensuring that there are sufficient role models and that we deal with some systemic issues.”

She said women generally make up about 40% of newsrooms.

“But when it comes to top leadership, you really only have 21% – those figures remain quite startling,” she said.

Titus said changing the profile of leadership to include media started with women themselves: “It is also about self-perception moving into leadership. We have seen that it starts with self-awareness, then self-acceptance, self-management, and self-development.”

Building support

Makunga noted that advocating for the recognition of women leaders in the media space was more than a window dressing exercise, emphasising the importance of support systems within the newsroom.

“I think building a support structure within the newsroom is quite an important thing. Bring together a number of people that will help in your trying to push-back against [bad] behaviour,” she said.

Makunga said it’s crucial for women leaders in the media space to ensure that they’re part of transformation in society.

“I think [women leadership] is a really crucial part of trying to transform society and making sure that we are able to reflect the society we serve accurately and contextually in all its nuances,” Makunga said.

Challenging policy in the media landscape

Fray told participants that change began with challenging the current media landscape and putting women in the rooms where policy was being discussed.

“We can’t change the media landscape without having women and gender diverse persons being there when policy is being discussed, when stories are being framed and when decisions are being made about the African narrative,” she said.

Godia said a lot of the ability to change narratives lay with a media organisation itself.

“How has the organisation institutionalised policies and put in place standards and guidelines that people are aware of, then help prevent any danger?” Godia asked,

She said: “Policies will help – and they must be policies that are living and are understood by everybody in the organisation, beyond just having women in leadership.”

Godia, a Kenyan journalist, editor, trainer, said coaching was an essential tool to putting more women in leadership.

“They actually discover that they have the skills and they have the capacity to take up management positions,” she said, adding that the WAN-IFRA Women In News programme was taking the issue to organisations.

“We are talking to CEOs where we are, we are getting into the newsrooms and addressing some of the barriers that we feel are a hindrance to women. Within the last one or two years, media executives have been listening to us,” Godia said.

Words of wisdom

In speaking to women leaders and aspiring women leaders in the media space, the speakers had these words of advice.

Makunga said: “My advice really would be from my experience. My attitude has always been one of ‘keep doing it’. It may seem like a simplistic thing but it’s the thing that has kept me [going], and the idea that you know tomorrow probably be a better day.”

Titus said: “I would say to a young female journalist, you are powerful; you are more powerful than you know. When you go into the newsroom, remember that it’s not a friendly space and no one is going to help you along unless you ask for it.”

Roberts said: “I think it’s going to be harder for a woman than it is for a man. I think it’s going to be hard, and we need to accept it and as women; fight and work to change that together.”

You can listen to the entire conversation here