Skip to main content

‘The culture we had to overcome was our own editorial office’

Sure, we might be more gender equal than many other countries in the world, but women are still under-represented in the media. Also, men hold most leading positions in the media industry. What can we do about it? This was the topic of the Nordic Gender & Media Forum in Bergen, Norway on 7 May.

Bergen. Photo: Peter Nybø Bergen Touristboard
Bergen. Photo: Peter Nybø Bergen Touristboard

Every year in Bergen, Norway, the Nordic Media Festival enables journalists and other people in the media sector to meet and discuss various issues. This year, Nordicom and NIKK hosted a full-day event in connection with the main conference with the motto ‘Time to Step Up’. The initiative drew about 70 participants from media and research.

The topics ranged from film, advertising and computer games to representation by ethnic minorities and sexual identities outside the hetero norm. Sara Lindquist from Queering Sápmi talked about the work with people’s preconceptions of a minority within a minority.

‘The media have presented the Queering Sápmi project as an effort to map out Sami LGBTQ persons. But what we are really trying to do is add some nuances to the common view of Sami identity.’

The purpose is to show how differences can strengthen a group instead of weakening it. Part of the work has consisted of interviewing queer Sami persons and staging artistic photos based on shared themes in the stories told.

‘It has been important not to make interpretations and generalisations of the interviews. As a non-Sami person, I’m a carrier of a colonial heritage, and I have to take responsibility for that.’

‘If we want change, we must act”

One of the areas discussed was leadership and the media as an organisation.

Suzanne Moll works as an adviser at International Media Support, which focuses on the media development in the Third World. She has worked in the Danish media industry for about 20 years and told the audience about a network for women that started in Denmark in the 1990s.

‘It started with a leadership programme initiated by Lisbeth Knudsen, CEO of Berlingske Media. We had a goal that 40 per cent of all leadership positions in the media industry should be filled by women. The network was cancelled because the younger generation didn’t seem interested in these issues.’

And we believed that talking about it is not enough; we would need to take carefully planned action as well.

‘My conclusion is that if we want change, we must act. I’m a strong supporter of imposing gender quotas on boards of directors. Nothing will ever happen without it.’

Cecilia Zadig also talked about leadership. Zadig has worked as a journalist for the Swedish public service broadcaster SVT for many years and also as leadership lecturer at Stockholm University.

‘The leadership programme for women in media that we started would not have been possible without the feminist wave in the 1990s,’ she said.

A total of 350 Swedish journalists and editors have finished the programme over the years. A study on how the programme has worked will be presented in November.

‘Journalism has a huge impact on society – that’s what’s driving me. Setting the agenda for which parts of society are covered and which voices are heard is central. Maybe we have contributed to the fact that 42 per cent of all editors-in-chief in Sweden are women,’ said Zadig.

‘Men have to start making different choices’

The gender in media day was followed up at the venue of the main conference with a panel discussion that attracted an audience of about 100. Besides Suzanne Moll, the panel also included Ellen Arnstad, publishing editor at Aller Media in Norway, and Gunnar Falck, managing editor of the Swedish newspaper Västerbotten-Kuriren. The panel discussed mainly the culture and work conditions in the media sector and how they affect women and men.
‘All editors should study the research that’s available on masculine and feminine environments,’ said Arnstad, who in 2006 co-authored the book Slik drar du bra damer, a handbook for the recruiting of women to leading positions.

‘There’s this notion that women should take care of kids and the household. As a result, they get a certain label if they choose to prioritise their career. The segregated labour market is largely due to people making traditional choices: When the man works overtime, the women work part time. Men have to start making different choices. They have to start working part time and turn down top management positions if they’re in a phase of life that doesn’t allow for that level of commitment. It has to be possible to combine work and family life.’

Gunnar Falck talked about the work at the newspaper Västerbotten-Kuriren to increase the share of women on the pages.

‘Our numbers were as bad as everybody else’s, but since 51 per cent of the readers are women, we asked ourselves how we could keep them despite the crisis in the newspaper industry. More different voices must be given a chance to be heard, from different parts of society. The culture we had to overcome was our own editorial office, in order to make it a long-term project and not just a temporary measure. I think the work has made us lose fewer readers than we would have otherwise.’

Updated 26 September 2020