July 28, 2017

In 1970, 46 women sued Newsweek for gender discrimination. Earlier this week, 42 women signed an open letter to the BBC demanding to close the gender pay gap.

Progress and change can be infuriatingly slow.

The journalism industry is notoriously inconsistent with pay, and women often bear the costs of this disparity. Job offers are often based on salary history, and there’s little transparency around pay within news organizations. Experts say pay transparency is key to reducing the wage gap.

Julia Haslanger, an engagement consultant at Hearken, created the Journo Salary Sharer in 2015 in response to the industry-wide lack of salary information. “We demand transparency from everyone else, but we’re not there,” she said.

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In 1970, the Newsweek employees alleged that bosses were denying women the opportunity to become writers and reporters. The lawsuit was settled several weeks later but produced few changes within the company. Newsweek’s female staffers sued again in 1972. The second lawsuit resulted in a formal commitment that women would comprise at least one-third of the magazine’s writers and domestic and foreign reporters by 1975.

Those events inspired Lynn Povich’s nonfiction book and a fictionalized Amazon Studios show, both titled “Good Girls Revolt.” Unfortunately, the Amazon show was killed after one season. Much worse is the fact that gender discrimination and pay inequity — nearly five decades after the Newsweek revolt — is still alive and well in newsrooms.

The BBC’s pay disparity was revealed after the government demanded that the publicly funded broadcaster disclose the salaries of all employees earning at least £150,000. As a result, BBC management promised to close the gender pay gap by 2020. But dozens of female hosts, in an open letter published Sunday, pushed for change sooner than that.

“You have said that you will ‘sort’ the gender pay gap by 2020, but the BBC has known about the pay disparity for years,” they wrote. “We all want to go on the record to call upon you to act now.”

The BBC isn’t alone in a public dispute over income inequity. Last month, Dow Jones & Company made news after it was revealed that, on average, full-time female employees earn less than 85 percent of what their male colleagues make. Those findings were part of a report published by the Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees, a union that represents many employees of The Wall Street Journal.

The report was clear in its findings. “Among the reporters of Dow Jones, there is a significant pay gap between men and women that can’t be explained away by experience,” IAPE said.

While their approaches were different, employees at Newsweek, the BBC and Dow Jones all demanded change publicly and as a collective. If you suspect a gender pay gap at your workplace — spoiler alert: there probably is one! — here are tips on how to move forward.

Do your research

You need more than a hunch to demand action. Newsweek staffers were denied opportunities to become staff writers for years. It wasn’t until researcher Judy Gingold learned that this behavior was illegal, a violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, that staffers began to organize and form a case. The BBC employees’ route was easier — salary information was made public. And Dow Jones’ employees are armed with data thanks to the research conducted by IAPE.

There are plenty of grassroots efforts, too. Inspired by Haslanger’s salary sharer, BuzzFeed news audio fellow Alex Laughlin recently launched a similar effort to uncover audio producer salaries. Laughlin, who recently moved to New York and is job hunting for audio producer jobs, says salary information available about those positions is limited. Startups like Gimlet don’t have Glassdoor profiles, and legacy media companies now hiring audio producers “are like the Wild West,” said Laughlin. “There’s no consistency in salaries.”

That lack of information prompted Laughlin to create her own audio producer salary sharer. “I have no idea what to ask for and no one can give me the answers, so I’m finding my own answers.” With the help of a data analyst, Laughlin is actively crunching numbers and says the results of the survey will publish “very soon.”

“Women specifically need to be armed with the knowledge of what they’re worth,” said Laughlin.

Once you have proof that you’re underpaid, you can use that information to help negotiate your salary. IAPE suggested that Dow Jones employees present the report’s data to managers during performance evaluations. The union also offers personal salary comparisons for members.

Find allies

Both Haslanger and Laughlin recommend finding allies before trying to uncover a pay gap. “If somebody tries to push for change by themselves, they can be labeled the troublemaker,” said Haslanger. “It’s easy for management to ignore one person, but it’s harder to ignore a group of well-respected employees.”

Laughlin credits her cohort in helping her to learn how to discuss pay and negotiations. She launched PayUp, a Slack-based community dedicated to the gender wage gap, with former Washington Post colleague Julia Carpenter. “I have a great network of friends. We’re always helping people get more literal bucks for their bang,” she said.

Haslanger suggests starting with an ally in the newsroom. “See if there’s a strategy for uncovering salaries that already exists.” If that’s too difficult, she recommends finding a friend in a similar position as yours in another newsroom.

Proceed with caution

Even when you’ve found trusted colleagues, Haslanger and Laughlin both urge caution when discussing salaries. Talking about money is awkward, and salary transparency efforts can easily go awry. “We operate under the idea that what you’re paid is what you are worth, and that makes talking about salary uncomfortable,” Haslanger said.

Laughlin suggested omitting names from salary sharing spreadsheets and enlisting “a dispassionate third-party to crunch numbers.” She agrees that salary transparency can be problematic in the workplace but believes the overall gains are worth it.

“[Salary sharing] can be a really toxic thing to introduce into the team’s dynamic, but it’s necessary for change. The responsibility is on everybody to handle these truths and address them without personalizing it,” Laughlin said. “It’s really valuable to know what your team members are making.”

Be patient

“It’s eye-opening and nutty how hard women had to fight for newsroom opportunities and pay in our not-too-distant past,” journalism consultant Joy Mayer said about “Good Girls Revolt.” The Newsweek gender battle took place in the 1970s. And yet, women are still waging similar fights in today’s newsrooms.

“It’s frustrating that [the pay gap] still exists,” Haslanger said. “It’s existed for decades. And it probably will take decades until it’s fixed. We all have to still fight our fight.”

“There are so many other things I’d rather be focused on,” Laughlin said. “All of the women I know who are fighting for this have plenty of other big ideas — do good journalism, launch big projects, experiment with new platforms. But we’re also fighting for equal pay. It’s frustrating, to say the least.”

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Katie Hawkins-Gaar was Poynter's digital innovation faculty member. She ran the Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media and was one half of the duo…
Katie Hawkins-Gaar

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