Will the Digital Age Lead to Female Advancement in Media?

As part of the Women's Leadership Society @ Annenberg M{2e}'s ongoing effort to understand how the future of media and entertainment might unfold, we asked leading feminist media scholars and industry practitioners their thoughts on near-term prospects for female advancement in the business. 

By Alissa Arnold, Lindsey Hart, Christopher Smith |
December 9, 2014

The media industry has a long-standing female representation problem tied to two specific areas of obstruction. In one respect, a glass ceiling inhibits women from growing professionally at the same rate as men—whether on screen, behind the camera, or in the C-suite.  According to a 2014 study, The Status of Women in the U.S. Media, conducted by the Women’s Media Center, females fill producing roles for less esteemed, low budget content and are unable to penetrate the barriers to front more prestigious projects. However, the greater challenge facing women in media and entertainment is simply gaining access to opportunities for the kind of meaningful work that might lead to institutional leadership. In that regard, The Status of Women in the U.S. Media study also found that women occupied just nine percent of directing roles for the top grossing films last year. This discovery suggests that aside from women being unable to break through restrictive barriers, they don’t even exist in the pipeline.

The Women’s Leadership Society at Annenberg M{2e} is designed to intervene at the point of entry and foster a more robust and expansive pool of available talent for a variety of creative, and information intensive, enterprises. This will serve to disrupt the current male-dominated state of the industry and build new opportunities for the future generation of thought leaders. Particularly in the growing digital age, the question arises, “how might digital innovation provide gateways into media, communication, and journalism for women, and what may continue to inhibit such progress?" At the Women's Leadership Society, we strive to bring leading voices together around the key debates, so young scholars and aspring executives and entrepreneurs can glean the talent, skills, and contacts necessary to be well-equipped for top management positions in the industry.

As part of our ongoing effort to understand how the future of media and entertainment might unfold, we asked leading feminist media scholars and industry practitioners their thoughts on near-term prospects for female advancement in the business.

Q: "Will the digital turn in media lead to a new wave of female advancement in the industry?"

Join our respondents and take part in the poll below...

Maybe. Willow Bay, director; professor of professional practice - School of Journalism, USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism

"I have worked - in particular at the Huffington Post - in media environments that were primarily female and wondered, 'how many of the young women here will go on to lead digital media companies, or create new ones?' And then I asked myself, 'how do I as a manager set the stage for that kind of advancement? What opportunities can I create for them? What opportunities can I help them identify?' From what I have observed, if women leverage their unique experiences and perspectives - for example, as 'heavy users' in the social media space - and also develop an ease and fluency with digital tools and analytics, and an appetite for professional challenge and risk-taking, then there is no limit to our potential for advancement."

YES. Bonnie Bruckheimer, film producer; adjunct professor - USC School of Cinematic Arts 

"Yes.... absolutely.  As new job opportunities open up, I believe women will take more and more leadership positions.  Women's confidence levels are at an all-time high and I'm excited about the possibilities for women in the digital age."

Maybe. Elana Levine, associate professor - Department of Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee  

"Maybe. Digital media have allowed for a much wider array of media outlets, which allows for more opportunities to participate in the media industry. Think of all the websites that now need management and content, alongside the expansions of legacy media! However, technological change alone cannot upset long-standing hierarchies that have kept women out of many of the highest ranks of the industry in particular, so it remains to be seen if the greater opportunities will eventually dismantle those deeply-rooted inequalities."

Maybe. Vicki Mayer, editor, Television & New Media; director, MediaNOLA; professor of communication and Louise Riggio Professor of Social innovation and Entrepreneurship - Tulane University

"It depends. In terms of below-the-line media production, digital technologies could potentially enable more women to enter fields that historically were dominated by men who could handle heavy pieces of equipment.  In practice, this has not always been the case because the culture of production is still largely male-dominated."

Maybe. Ariela Nerubay, general manager, Univision Communications Inc.

"It will depend on how well prepared women are to bring value to the table through innovative thinking. As the media landscape becomes more digitally focused, jobs and career opportunities will open up for those who have the skills and experience necessary to lead their companies through change. Those who are familiar with digital marketing, digital content production, or digital selling -- to name a few -- will have an easier time benefitting from the shift. For those currently at a disadvantage, I recommend applying for internships at companies leading the digital shift or getting involved in a taskforce within their company that would offer the opportunity to gain such skills. I believe the best way for women to advance their careers is to focus on gaining new skills today for tomorrow’s jobs."

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