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Think you need to address the HR situation in all these instances. There are a lot of very different issues in here. I’m not completely clear what ties it all together. Are these all small companies?

I feel stuck on this piece. I have no doubt what these women recount is very true, but it doesn’t stand up as a piece of reporting b/c it relies a lot of feelings without as much reported details. There’s nobody on the record, even an outside expert, or any data presented to put in context how widespread these issues are — and they are multiple issues b/c they’re extremely different — and if they’re unique to newsrooms. It seems to me between a reported piece and a confession, like we asked, “Tell us when you experienced sexism” and then wrote it up. I very much want to address these issues, but I’m not sure this is the way. For instance, many years ago we ran this piece that got a lot of attention and addressed specific issues:

Between 2015 and 2018, Marie (name has been changed for this article) was a reporter at a local newspaper. During that time, as one of two women in a staff of 12, she said she experienced pay inequality, ongoing workplace bullying by a manager who constantly belittled the female staff while propping up male employees. She was also stuck confronting casual workplace sexism where no male manager was interested in helping or working with her. You need to flesh these issues out in the next graf or two. It’s very unclear what this means — casual workplace sexism is very broad.

In one instance, this reporter and another female employee had to turn in a spreadsheet every week saying how they spent “every hour of every workday,” something male colleagues were never asked for. She also dealt with issues taking paid time off while at the company. What issues? Use this graf to lay out specifics.

And when she finally quit — there was more: “It was commonplace for employees leaving to use some of their PTO in the final weeks — multiple male reporters had done so that year — but it was denied to me without explanation,” she said. Is this the PTO issue? Address whether she reported any of this to HR. Also, what was the company policy? Or was the company so small that it didn’t have policies and HR?

In conversations with nine women , it’s clear that despite #MeToo and outward-facing advocacy, sexism still remains a problem in media (as it does in advertising where one in two women say they’ve been harassed). The difference is, sexism may not be as outwardly obvious as it was. Many women complain of a pattern of microaggressions, tokenism, subtle digs and off-hand, derogatory comments.

It’s even more of a challenge for women of color in the media industry.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” said one editor in media. “Not only am I black, but I’m a woman. Being a black woman in the media space, particularly in the digital media space comes with its own set of obstacles to overcome and challenges to deal with.”

In one newsroom role, she noticed a colleague would have her specifically proof certain stories. “After taking a step back, I realized it was because I was the only black person on our team and so this coworker wanted to make sure they weren’t offending people — particularly queer people and people of color,” she said.

A former female politics reporter revealed that she would be constantly told she didn’t have “the right energy for journalism” by an editor-in-chief who came to town twice a year. The reporter, who is Indian, questioned what that meant. “To me, that means you’re not cute, in your 20s, white and sucking up to me, and you’re challenging authority. If I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be a good reporter,” she said. 

As for Mariewhen she and other employees encountered sexist remarks from sources and brought them to their managers they “would brush them off or would say it was our personalities or the way we interacted with sources that caused that behavior.”

Boys clubs
Being just one or two women in an office of men creates an environment where speaking up feels pointless. Needs attribution

Every Friday at 5 p.m. they had something called ‘Man’s Game,’ which is what they called their beer pong tournaments,” said a reporter at a men’s publication. “They invited other men over, openly talked about sex, Kate Upton’s body and said things like ‘rape is not real.” 

“It was a lawsuit waiting to happen,” she said. Everyone was required to stay until 5:45 p.m., but the women in the office were not encouraged to take part in “Man’s Game,” and they’d receive “nasty emails” if they left early. “I always thought I would speak up if something like this was happening, but it feels almost impossible when you need the money and don’t think anything will actually change,” she said.

One editorial assistant at a publishing company is stuck being the “one female” there. 

“I do frequently feel like they hired me just to say, ‘hey! we have women here!’ without actually listening to me, and often making me feel like an idiot for suggesting very simple ideas that end up working. It’s hard,” she explained.

Recently the company required employees to do sexual harassment training and her boss ignored it.

“He said he didn’t want to do it and said it was a waste of time,” she said. “I feel like I can’t say that I’m offended because I’m the only woman there. We don’t even have HR really. The only person I would have to report it to is [my boss].”

Inappropriate behavior
A fashion media employee experienced inappropriate behavior from her boss when she first graduated from college.

“My old boss was an absolute crazy cokehead who would completely treat me and my female colleagues different from the guys. Lots of hands on the back,” she recalled.

At the same time, he’d always send her and the other female colleague to have meetings with young male talent despite her being senior. “It was to help them pick out clothes from the showroom. It wasn’t a strategy meeting. He’d always make us do it even if I was spinning 40 plates. What am I going to do when he’s telling me to do this in front of an artist? You’re basically showboating us because we’re young pretty girls.” 

Despite being uncomfortable, she didn’t feel like she could complain.

“We didn’t have HR, and were only a team of seven paid members of staff [and] I was senior. [My boss] was erratic and unpredictable. I was at the mercy of expensive London and couldn’t risk losing my job before I had another lined up, which is what I did eventually and quit,” she said. If she complained, “he would have just tried to pacify me — be overly nice to me, offer me a pay rise, or bring me treats into the office. This was his classic behavior every time someone held him to account on anything he did that was out of line.”

In another instance, the former head of content at an app dealt with a slew of inappropriate behavior and sexism in the office. One memory that sticks with her is when she had to help organize some shows for Coachella.

“[My boss] asked me and the head of design to go with him. We were staying at a hotel where we would be throwing a pool party with some well-known DJs at the time, and when he gave us our room keys he told me that my room would be behind the DJ booth outside in case ‘the DJs wanted to come hang out on my bed for a bit.’ Then he said, ‘You wouldn’t mind that right. You’re cute, you like the attention, so they’ll just have access to your room for a day.'” 

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