Monday, July 15, 2013

Technology opens new ways of working for women in media: Gender Links

Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI) for Media Leadership is launching its latest publication, Media Management in the New Age: How Managers Lead Media in Southern and Eastern Africa. The book examines media management challenges and opportunities in Africa and is a collaborative effort between the SPI and several authors from Southern and Eastern Africa.

Ahead of the launch of the book in September this year, the SPI is conducting a Question and Answer (Q&A) interview with the authors. In this first article, SPI Researcher Johanna Mavhungu asks Sikhonzile Ndlovu, Media Programme Manager at Gender Links, about her contribution to the book.

Johanna (JM): The title of your article is “gender and managing diversity”. What issues relating to this topic are media managers faced with in their newsrooms in the age of rapid technological development?

Sikhonzile (SN): Rapid technological development presents opportunities to media managers more than “issues”. This means that employees do not have to be physically present to fulfil their duties but can work off-site. This is especially convenient for women employees who often have to juggle professional and personal duties. Technological developments also mean that employees are able to conduct research for their articles online, thereby reducing time out in the field. This ensures that different employees can tackle any topic; there are no more barriers to women’s effective participation. Many an editor has often argued in the past that women employees cannot cover certain assignments as this would be risky, for example, in areas of disaster and conflict.

JM: You write about gender roles in the newsroom. What are your thoughts on the current status of women in South Africa’s newsrooms?

SN: South Africa has made reasonable progress in terms of getting women into media leadership [positions]. This is both true for mainstream as well as private and community media. According to the 2009 Glass Ceilings in South African media (study), women constitute 50% of those in management positions in South Africa. [However] having a critical mass of women in the media is not enough if they are not making any decisions. Women like Ferial Haffajee (the current City Press Editor) have proven that women have what it takes to lead in the media.

JM: What management strategies should media managers implement in their newsrooms to ensure a diverse and gender balanced work environment?

SN: Creating an enabling environment for diverse groups to work in is the first step towards ensuring a balanced work environment. This is through putting in place a policy framework that caters for diversity. Gender policies with distinct clauses on sexual harassment or stand-alone sexual harassment policies are part of this. The other strategy is to promote open dialogue and discussion among employees on gender and diversity issues. This helps create a balanced work space.

JM: How can we get more women ascending to executive levels and staying there?

SN: Media houses should make deliberate efforts to support capable women. They should not leave this to chance because there are still gender imbalances in society at large. This would include introducing quotas, balancing interview panels as well keeping databases of capable women candidates. It has often been argued that women should fight just like men to get to executive positions, but the reality is that the odds weigh heavily against women. Once women have ascended to executive levels, media houses should be deliberate about supporting them, taking into account the dual roles that they perform in their professional and private lives. Successful women managers often cite support and mentorship from management as ingredients for their success.

JM: What are some of the critical research areas and debates for the future in managing gender and diversity in newsrooms?

SN: (These would include) questions such as the difference that a critical mass of women bring to media management and leadership.

JM: What contribution do you think your article makes in this debate?

SN: It provides significant insights on key gender and media issues in institutional practice. It also contributes to the body of knowledge on media management strategies, for example, taking up deliberate change approaches.