Race and gender

Sanef’s Glass Ceiling project, led by the Sanef Diversity Committee, set out to establish the realities facing women journalists in South African newsrooms, specifically senior women journalists, and find out what they identify as obstacles.

The project was triggered by research presented to Sanef members at the 2003 annual general meeting revealing that only 17% of views, images and stories in the media in 12 Southern African countries reflected the voices and opinions of women. It highlighted the fact that an important aspect of news was missing from our representation of issues and stories in society.

Further research was put forward on the matter of diversity, where representation of the disabled, disadvantaged groups such as people living with HIV/Aids and others was either under-represented or missing both in newsrooms and in media stories.

The goal of the research was to gain better understanding of the policies, attitudes and practices in newsrooms in relation to gender, diversity and disadvantaged groups in our society, not only towards news staff but also towards audiences, and thus to help the media do a better job of reporting society more holistically. This became a crucial issue for media houses that, at the time, were facing new legislative requirements in the form of equity targets. The study also sought to assess the ability of news management to deal with the transformational challenges of the South African media.

Glass Ceiling Project executive summary

The key findings to emerge from the second phase of the Glass Ceiling Study revealed that while there were roughly equal numbers of women and men in South African newsrooms, women, especially black women, were still scarce in senior and top management positions and on the hard news beats. On average, women earned 20% less than their male colleagues and black women earned 25% less than white men. There were, however, considerable differences between the nine media houses surveyed (representing over half of all newsroom employees in the country), with some having a majority women in senior management and others none at all.

The study built on the qualitative study released by Sanef in August 2006 by providing quantitative information on where women were located within the hierarchy and work of newsrooms, as well as analysing conditions of service and employment practices that have a bearing on gender disparities in newsrooms.

Glass Ceiling One found that despite having a constitution that entrenches equal rights, “discriminatory practices, structural inequalities, cultural factors, prejudices, patriarchy and sexism are still alive and well in our South African newsrooms. These are clearly prohibiting South Africa’s women journalists from realising their potential.”

This subsequent audit of women in newsrooms, conducted in collaboration with Gender Links, involved administering a factual questionnaire to the SABC, The Citizen, Kaya FM, Media24, Primedia, SAPA, the Independent Group of newspapers, Johncom and the Mail & Guardian between September and December 2006. Key findings from the two phases of the study showed:

  • There were nearly equal numbers of women and men in newsrooms: With 45% women in newsrooms (compared to 33% in a 1995 study) there was a progressive move towards achieving gender balance in newsrooms.
  • There were differences between media houses: Kaya FM and Primedia had over 70% women in newsrooms compared with The Citizen (29%). The SABC, Mail & Guardian and Media24 were close to achieving gender parity.
  • There were major differences between racial groups: Black women, who constituted 46% of the population, only accounted for 18% of newsroom staff (compared with 45% of the population and 28% of newsroom staff in the case of black men, and 4% of the population and 28% of newsrooms in the case of white men).
  • Women were still scarce in the upper echelons: Women occupied less than 30% of top management posts and constituted one out of three senior managers in newsrooms. Conversely, they comprised 48% of junior managers and almost 70% of all semi-skilled workers in the newsroom. Several newsrooms did not have any women at top and senior management levels. However, others like Kaya (100%) and Primedia (78%) had well over 50% women at top and senior management levels.
  • Change was happening for black males: There had been deliberate investments into redressing the racial imbalances of the past. Black men constituted 16% of top and senior managers in 1999 (Goga, 2000); in 2006 this percentage had increased to 23.5%.
  • Black women were the furthest down the ladder, accounting for a mere 6% of top and senior management in newsrooms.
  • There was found to be a correlation between women in management and gender equality in newsrooms: In general, newsrooms with a higher proportion of women in decision-making positions also had higher levels of gender parity among the overall staff.
  • Men got better working deals: Men were more likely than women to be employed in open-ended, full-time contracts while women were more likely to be contracted on a part-time basis (65%) or a fixed full-time contract (52.61%). However, this varied in different media houses.
  • Men earned more on average than women: At R184 387 per annum, the annual average salary of women in newsrooms was 21% less than the average annual salary of men (R233 737).
  • The income differential between white men and black women was especially pronounced: While the income differential between white men and black men in newsrooms was narrowing, black women earned on average 25% less than white men in newsrooms.
  • There was a gender division of labour in newsrooms: While there were now roughly equal proportions of women and men in the editorial divisions of newsrooms, women dominated the presenter and administrative categories while men made up 86% of the technical category.
  • The gender division of labour in beats was still pronounced: Male journalists dominated in all of the hard beats (such as politics, economics, investigative reporting and crime). They constituted over 90% of sports reporters.
  • The only beats in which women journalists predominated were entertainment, education and general reporting.
  • There were no specific targets in place: None of the media houses in the study could point to specific targets for ensuring gender equality as part of the Employment Equity Act obligations.
  • There were no specific policies to guide change: Only two companies had gender policies although 12 had sexual harassment policies. Almost half of the media houses (46%) showed interest in developing a gender policy.


The main recommendation to emerge from the two phases of the study was the adoption of a Sanef Media Action Plan on Gender to include:

  • Awareness raising through the launch of, and publicity on, the research and workshops to discuss the findings.
  • Recommending key strategic targets and time frames in line with the Southern African Protocol on Gender and Development that commits members to achieving gender parity in all areas and at all levels of decision making, including the media, by 2015.
  • One-on-one engagement with members who participated in the study on the findings to assist in determining priority actions.
  • Pilot projects to develop gender policies with interested members as part of the regional Media Action Plan on HIV/Aids and Gender.
  • Development of useful tools as part of this process (e.g. templates for policies and examples of practices on issues such as career pathing, flexi-work and strategies for delivering on equity laws, as well as internal monitoring and evaluation tools).
  • Sharing of good practice, measured against a “checklist for change”, through Sanef.
  • Training and development programmes led by Sanef.
  • Regular monitoring and evaluation, including report-backs at each Sanef annual general meeting and repeating the Glass Ceiling Study every five years. These actions should form part of Sanef’s medium to long-term plan and should be budgeted for.

Glass Ceiling Project team

Lizette Rabe, Judy Sandison, Chris Whitfield, Lizma van Zyl, Mary Papayya, Patricia Handley, Thabo Leshilo, Mathatha Tsedu, Rhys Johnstone, Gavin Stewart, Anthea Garman, Pippa Green and Zelda Jongbloed.