It is becoming increasingly apparent that if employers want to avoid legislation requiring them to institute affirmative action programs, they are going to have to do much better on a voluntary basis at hiring and promoting women into higher-paying jobs and employers should stop assuming that women can’t do nontraditional jobs: if they have the skills needed, hire them. As well, employers should start looking at their entire work force, not just at the young men, as potential management material.”
That was The Toronto Star’s editorial position in May, 1982. But in the intervening six years, the paper has apparently ignored its own advice. While women make up 24 per cent of its 318 editorial employees, the Star has only one woman in senior management: Mary Deanne Shears, assistant managing editor, training. The situation at The Toronto Sun is even worse-it has no woman managers on news side and The Globe and Mail’s showing is only slightly better; there Shirley Sharzer is deputy managing editor and Gwen Smith is assistant managing editor.
Nor is the representation of women above the level of city editor any better in the newsrooms of the rest of the country. Indeed, an informal survey by the Ryerson Review of Journalism showed that only two women outside Toronto hold senior management positions in news: Gillian Steward, managing editor of The Calgary Herald, and Linda Hughes, editor-in-chief of The Edmonton Journal. Though the survey covered Canada’s 110 English language dailies, it was confined to news departments-the most-taken route to the top-and so excluded such departments as entertainment, lifestyle and the editorial page.
When city editors are included in the newspaper manager category, Southam Newspaper Group, for which both Steward and Hughes work, makes a better showing: at its 15 dailies there are 11 women managers. By comparison, Thomson’s 29 papers also have just 11 women who have risen that high. Tim Peters, personnel director for Southam, says his company has been working at advancing women: “We’re making sure that training and development programs are available to all potential managers and that women avail themselves of these programs.”
But Southam’s approach is uncommon. Dorothy Jurney, a veteran American newspaper editor who has been tracking the number of female senior managers at U.S. papers since 1977, says that if women’s movement into management continues at its current glacial pace, it will be another seven decades before they achieve parity. The limited Canadian data indicate a similar picture. In 1986, Adam Mayer, then an MBA student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, completed a study entitled “Women and Minorities at Newspapers in Ontario: How Equal Is the Opportunity?” Twenty of the province’s 41 papers responded to Mayer’s survey, including the 10 largest. He found that, while 31 per cent of newsroom employees were female, women made up only 19 per cent of employees at or above the department editor level; the sole woman who held a position beyond the associate managing editor level worked at a small, independently owned paper. Mayer also observed: “Across all papers, women tended to be stereotyped and slotted into ‘soft’ front-line management jobs. They are most frequently found as lifestyle, women’s and family editors.”
Senior newspaper staff offer a variety of reasons for women’s poor representation in management. Geoffrey Stevens, managing editor of The Globe and Mail, attributes the limited number of women in senior jobs to journalism’s being a traditionally male profession. As more women enter journalism schools and newsroom pools, he predicts, more women will move into management. “Everyone around here, from publisher on down, wants to make sure women are promoted and we get the proper representation of women in management. It takes a while to feed up,” he says.
However, the majority of students at the journalism schools already are women. In the course of his study, Mayer found that in the 1984-85 academic year 64 per cent of journalism students were women, and this year women make up two-thirds of the 925 students in the Catleton, Western and Ryerson programs. The most recent numbers available indicate that Globe’s own staffing patterns hardly reflect this trend: in May, 1987, of its 118 reporters, 90 were male, and men constituted 41 of the paper’s 58 copy editors and 38 of its 52 columnists and principal editors. As at many papers, the Globe’s record is better in the advertising and circulation departments. “In some of those departments you’ve got a lot more clerical. We have very few clerks here [in the editorial department]. The rest are professional. journalists, so you’re likely to get a different mix,” Stevens says.
The managing editor of the Star, Ian Urquhart, offers another reason for there being so few women at the top: while he acknowledges that more women have entered the traditionally male-dominated field over the past 25 years, he says that they have not been encouraged to go into management because of the long hours. “A man who works 60 or 70 hours a week is applauded, but a woman who does that is seen as abandoning her husband and family.”
Mary Deanne Shears, who started at the Star as a summer student 20 years ago and worked her way up from the copy desk into management, confirms this view. “The route to management and supervisory jobs has been up through the copy desk,” she says, “and that’s where the progress has been slower. Some of it is because of the hours of work. If you’re a copy editor, you’re working evenings and weekends, and there are some women who have decided they don’t want to work those hours, for family reasons or whatever.”
Lynda Hurst, a Star feature writer who follows women’s issues, agrees that family considerations can impede women. “When women reach their late twenties, they get married and have children. When they have little children at home, they can’t put in the long hours on the desk.”
So even if we think we live in a liberated world, Hurst says, it is usually the woman who raises the children: “Let’s face it, she’s simply staying at home.”
Still, Urquhart concedes that mothers are returning to work much earlier today. To say that women miss opportunities to move into senior jobs because they leave to have children is a “convenient excuse,” he says. “I don’t really think that’s true anymore. Now you get women coming back six months or a year after giving birth.”
Stevens also recognizes that society has changed: “I think increasingly more women are coming right back into the workplace. Nobody I can think of has become a full-time mother.”
Dona Harvey put in the long hours at the desk on her way to becoming managing editor and then editor-in-chief at the now-defunct Winnipeg Tribune between 1976 and 1980, and then managing editor at The Vancouver Province until 1984. Now assistant vice-president of institutional affairs at the University of Toronto, Harvey says during her time as an editor she tried to bring more women into management but found that many didn’t want the long hours of work. “Women tend to have a broader life-view than men, at least those I have worked with, those that I tried to woo into management. The two or three prime candidates whom I worked on and worked on, each backed away. They said, ‘I don’t want it. I’m not prepared to sacrifice my whole life for the job; there is too much else that is important to me.’ “
However, she adds that “there are a lot of men who also shy away, and we tend to forget that.” Gillian Steward agrees with Harvey, but offers another reason for the dearth of women in senior positions. Steward, who started at the Herald in 1972 as a reporter, says: “Men are in positions of power and they don’t see it’s necessary for women to move up. I don’t think they give it a lot of thought at the top that this is a priority and we need a long-term strategy with specific goals over a period of years.”
Ann Shortell, vice-president of the Women’s Press Club, shares this opinion. “Management means business and the standard attitude is that women don’t know about and can’t handle management,” she says. “You have to look at who’s making the decisions about who will become managers at newspapers. It’s businessmen who are 55-plus, in sales or finance. They are traditionalists and some of them have never worked at newspapers. And when you get down to who is going to be the corporate person and play the game, it’s easier for them to promote a male.”
Shortell, now the investment editor for The Financial Times of Canada, has been a reporter at the Kingston Whig-Standard, The Windsor Star, The Financial Post and a regular contributor to Maclean’s. She says she knows women who have left newspapers because they knew management jobs weren’t open to them. And she says the failure of one woman is often viewed as a failure of all women. “Women in management do work long hours, but if a woman ever lets down, there’s an assumption that she didn’t want it. There’s never the assumption that a man wouldn’t want it.”
Shirley Sharzer is someone who left the business to raise a family. She resigned her foreign editor post at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1953 and returned 10 years later-to write cutlines for the photo desk. Today, she believes, women have more chance to move forward: “I think things have changed a lot as younger men come in with different attitudes. I think the atmosphere will change.”
Judy Steed, a feature writer at the Globe since 1981, agrees that the future is brighter. “I honestly think it’s changing. For women in their twenties, I db think it’s going to get better.” Another female staffer at the Globe, who asked to remain anonymous, also considers this a good time for women at the paper: “At the moment they have fair avenues to promotion. Qualified women have a better chance at some jobs than men do.” But, she adds, “that has not always been the case, and I have no reason to believe it will always be the case.” She says any improvements have been accomplished by a few people. “If they are no longer there or they change their minds or the influence changes, the doors may close again.”
Steed attributes the changes to the efforts of women, not management. “The male managers started to make a bit of a conscious effort because of the work we women did. It was not 11 gift they were giving us. Our impression is that they wanted to keep it the way it was.” As Steed’s anonymous colleague says: “There is a certain kind of person some of us can predict will do well. It has to do with his clothes, his attitude and his last name. And they are all male. The bright young things are never female.”
The situation for women seems to have changed little since the days when “the gentlewomen of the press,” as author Susan Crean calls them in her 1985 book Newsworthy: The Lives of Media Women, worked on the so-called women’s pages at Canadian dailies. Crean writes of reporter Lotta Dempsey: “So secure were publishers about their preserve, so sure of its propriety and prominence, that none of the dailies young Lotta Dempsey worked on in the late 1920s and 1930s bothered to install a women’s washroom on the editorial floor.”
Shirley Sharzer’s favorite joke about women in management is a telling sign that, six decades later, things haven’t changed very much. “An advantage to i being a woman manager in newspapers,” she says, “is never having to stand in line for a washroom when you go to a journalists’ convention.”