Seeing fewer women on the news? There’s a reason

The modern news cycle is a 24/7 ordeal. And at major broadcast companies, someone always has to be ready to go on-air.

That means that correspondents can be sent to the latest protest or mass shooting at a moment’s notice, with no regularity or predictability in the schedule. And though that volatility may put strain on most people, mothers say they bear the brunt of the burden.

“Moms are expected to do their job like it’s their only responsibility, even though they’re also working the mom shift,” former CBS News correspondent Julianna Goldman recently wrote in The Atlantic. “Covering a forest fire or a mudslide is rarely compatible with being home for back-to-school night.”

In a personal essay, Goldman detailed how, after 15 years in the news business, she cried for the first time in front of one of her CBS bosses when she requested to change her schedule so it was less uncertain but her manager would not budge. It was implied that she should feel fortunate her contract had been renewed at all. And so Goldman did not sign on for another few years.

“Pressed to choose between staying in my career and being a mom, I chose the latter,” Goldman wrote. “But it didn’t really feel like much of a choice.”

After speaking to 13 mothers in TV news, Goldman identified a trend: Broadcast women are held to a standard that few of them can practically maintain as mothers. And like most of the workforce, they’re subject to biases that make their colleagues judge them more harshly than single women and men or fathers.

“You can be in meetings and the person talking to you firmly believes they don’t have ‘working mother’ in mind when they’re talking to you, but it is there. It becomes a big part of who you are,” Robin Sproul, an ABC News veteran, told Goldman. “There is a ‘You don’t even want to ask the working mom about some assignments’ because you’re afraid if you ask them and they say yes, they won’t be able to deliver the way a single man or single woman would — and they’ll ask for accommodations.”

Goldman’s essay is backed by research that indicates the progress women have made in news is slipping. In 2016, female anchors, field reporters and correspondents accounted for only 25.2% of broadcast reports, according to the Women’s Media Center (WMC) — down from 32% when WMC published its 2015 report. Other journalism professions suffer from similar gender disproportions, though they’re less dramatic: In 2017, WMC’s annual examination found female-produced work accounted for 37.7% of news reports at major outlets.

In 2015, journalism professor Scott Reinardy surveyed more than 500 female journalists and found that 67% of women “said they either intended to leave journalism or were uncertain about their future,” according to a release summarizing his study. That’s up from 62% in 2009.

Goldman attributed women’s departures from broadcast journalism to two major factors: A toxic work culture that pushes employees to always prove their sacrifice and hard work (including ending maternity leave early to get back in front of the camera), and a belief that women must fit a particular vision.

“Even if it’s unspoken, there is a very clear expectation that you will maintain a certain appearance if you’re a woman,” former anchor and correspondent Campbell Brown told Goldman. “The ability to maintain that appearance flies out the window when you get pregnant.”

Goldman ended her essay with a plea for more inclusive broadcast news, where she said mothers add to the landscape.

“The more women there are in TV news — from the top on down — the better and more diverse stories there are for the public to consume,” Goldman wrote. And, Goldman added,  “nearly all the women I spoke with said that once they became mothers, they became better journalists.”