Where are all the women in the Aus media?

BlueNotes Debates will bring together important voices across the business, economics and social spectrum to thrash out where the issues lie. They’ll be important but colourful affairs – and Monday’s first stoush was a case in point with Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, company director and gender activist Carol Schwartz, the Australian Financial Review’s Mike Smith (with the event opened by his namesake from ANZ) and BlueNotes associate editor Amanda Gome.

The first BlueNotes debate was a feisty affair with moderator, BlueNotes managing editor, Andrew Cornell brandishing a stopwatch and airhorn to keep the impassioned debaters in check. 

On the topic of who is more to blame for the lack of women in business media, men or women, the vote was clear: men. 

Perhaps it was no surprise, given the majority of the 100 or so guests at the debate were women. 

Although the night was the first BlueNotes debate, guests were also there to launch the new ANZ Notable Women program aimed at helping women achieve more visibility in the business community by leaning in to media and speaking events. 

You can watch the debate on our YouTube channel.

Company director, entrepreneur and gender activist Carol Schwartz opened the debate with a quote from actress, feminist and co-founder of the US Women’s Media Centre, Jane Fonda: “Gender inequality is so deeply ingrained in our culture, most people don’t realise there’s a problem.”  

“Therein lies the issue,” Carol said. “Newspaper editors are all men. TV and radio CEOs are all men. We are all so used to seeing, hearing and reading male journalists interviewing male business people that we all think that’s acceptable and normal.” 

“It is men who have the power to decide what we hear, read and see. Therefore when it comes to the absence of women, how on earth could we blame anyone else?”

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Mike Smith, senior columnist at the Australian Financial Review, took to the podium, pointing out he’d drawn the short straw: a man in a room full of women arguing that something is a woman’s fault. But from there, he championed the cause. 

“This argument’s a no-brainer,” he argued. “Women of course are frustrated they’re under-represented in the media. But I think women are more frustrated that women aren’t stepping up to do more about this. We want you all in the AFR.” 

Smith argued it wasn’t a matter of design or indeed bias: “In a digital age we don’t have time to be gender biased.” 

“We want smart voices in our stories and we want them straight away but can we find any?” he lamented. “We want to see more women in business media and we want them there on merit - not as a token gesture.”

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Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick counter challenged, noting if this was a real media interview and not a debate, she wouldn’t even be there: “We already have Carol, that’s taken our one in 10 space. If that were the case I’d be out the back making cups of tea.”

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What’s the real issue at hand? Is it women not stepping up? Is it about fixing women, making them more like men? Broderick explained: “Only 3 per cent of women are corporate spokespeople. That means if Carol got up to speak then I’d need 32 other men getting up to say their part before I could get a word in.” 

“Most people don’t notice the absence of women’s voices. It is so normalised,” she concluded. “What good will women leaning in do if men don’t start to lean out? It’s the men who have the power to decide what we hear, what we read and see. How could we blame anyone other than men?”

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Most men don't even notice the absence of female voices says @LizBroderick at #NotableWomen debate @ANZ_AU

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"If we don't intentionally include women's voices, we unintentionally exclude them." Wise words from @LizBroderick #NotableWomen @ANZ_AU

Finally BlueNotes associate editor Amanda Gome. She agreed while men have been to blame in the past, things have changed. 

“We’ve heard the impassioned pleas from the desperate souls in the newsroom: ‘Where are the women’?,” Amanda said. 

“Let me tell you what brilliant women tell you when you ring for an interview or keynote: ‘I’m too busy...I’ll look boastful…I might be misquoted'.” 

“But ring a man, and it’s ‘clear my diary!’” 

Amanda rounded out the debate by calling on women to take action: 

“Women: the opportunities are now here,” she implored. “The blokes are doing a lot of shoving and are dismantling the structural barriers. They’re addressing the bias and look at the great programs we’ve got: 25 CEOs pushing as champions of change. 

“If women are visible, then they can help reshape the rules. But you can’t reshape the rules if you don’t know the rules and you can’t change the game if you don’t show up.”

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It was a genuine debate, argument and counter argument, nuance and passion.

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Elizabeth laid down a formal challenge for the Australian business media, led by Fairfax and News Ltd: let’s have a commitment to have 30 per cent photos, 30 per cent opinion writers, 30 per cent women quoted in stories.

But in the final vote, a show of hands leant towards men being more to blame for women being missing in action from business media. Not a stand out win, highlighting the need to continue the discussion and the need for clear and ongoing actions on both sides.

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The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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