There are women everywhere in the media, and doing everything. But there is no woman at the head of NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, or Fox News. Tina Brown is now the editor of Newsweek—for the first time we have a woman editor at the top of the masthead—and I think there’s a lot more opportunity now at Newsweek for women. Nancy Gibbs may well be the next editor of Time, and that would make her the first woman editor there.
If there’s one conversation I’ve had over and over again with women, it’s about the reluctance to put themselves forward that you mentioned. We get put into management positions because we’re empathetic, but that same quality that helps people get along means we’re often less likely to be assertive.
I think that’s true. Sheryl Sandberg has been talking a lot about an “ambition gap.” She says we’re not teaching our girls to be as ambitious as our boys. I think actually these girls are quite ambitious; it’s what happens when they show their ambition. She notes that the more successful men are, the more they are liked by men and women. The more successful women are, the more they are disliked by men and women. I think that is a societal fault; it is a cultural fault. One of the issues for men and women today is letting women be as ambitious as they want to be without stigmatizing them. She says we should teach our women to be as ambitious at work, and teach our men to be more ambitious at home.
When you look at those young women at Newsweek now, what do you think of the situation they’re facing?
The women I know are encouraged about their careers now. Their issue is still their lives—how they’re going to continue in a career they want to continue in, and still have children and other responsibilities.
Maybe the new platforms will make things easier? Or worse?
One would think that with technology, there should be more flexibility, but somehow it hasn’t worked out that way. It is now a 24/7 problem—for everybody. This is a male problem as well as a female problem. Of course men are [now] a lot more involved with their families, which is great. But it’s tough on two working parents with kids.
I really don’t know of a media organization that’s progressive in this sense. Maybe that’s one thing to look for. The International Women’s Media Foundation—I’m on the board—did a global study on the status of women in the media worldwide. Seventy or so percent of the top jobs were male, which was not surprising. What was interesting was that the regions where women were doing really well at the top were the regions where they had childcare policies—so, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and the Nordic countries. More women were at the top of their news agencies there than anywhere else.
I think the big failure so far of our society in the United States [is] public and private support for working parents. Until we have more support, whether within the corporation or [from] government, it’s going to be a struggle for women. Every woman I know in her thirties right now is concerned about having it all, and doing it all. Being in the news is really tough. You never know when the phone call is going to come or when you’re going to be sent somewhere. You can’t plan.
That’s an area we really need to work on—for all of us, but particularly for young women.