Business of News

A push for diversity encounters resistance at The Wall Street Journal

June 26, 2017

When it comes to news coverage of diversity in the workplace, The Wall Street Journal’s sterling reputation is frequently on display through the work of its reporters.

A recent byline from Georgia Wells dove into Google’s labor dispute over lack of opportunity and unequal treatment of women and minorities. Harriet Torry’s recent dispatch from Washington revealed that the Federal Reserve’s first female chief believes government policies that boost women’s participation in the workforce have economic benefit. Kelsey Gee wrote about the legal push for employers to stop asking for pay history and offer salaries based on fair and equitable compensation within their own companies.

The Journal reports on such matters frequently, to significant, de facto impact—stories in the paper can move markets, redefine business models, and pressure employers to improve (or at least mount a public relations campaign).

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One might assume the Journal’s management would apply a similar level of rigor in ensuring diversity in its own prestigious newsroom. But the reporters named above are among nearly 200 in the newsroom who are still waiting for a substantive response to a March 28 letter they signed, demanding workplace equality. The letter offered a list of specific changes that would support a more diverse newsroom, a fairly compensated workforce, and protections for the careers of mothers and fathers. Management at the Journal has acknowledged it has work to do and promises change.

But one newsroom insider tells CJR patience is growing thin, and conversations around equality arise in the newsroom almost daily, with fresh complaints surfacing weekly about issues such as the dip in women’s bylines in the A-section and the top editor’s guidance to avoid noting the Trump travel ban’s focus on majority-Muslim countries.

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“This is something that is a very regular topic of conversation among editors and reporters—gender disparity, pay disparity, not feeling that our newsroom is as diverse as it needs to be in terms of race, LGBT employees, or [those with] diverse socioeconomic backgrounds,” a reporter involved in the internal women’s advocacy group at Dow Jones, the Journal’s parent company, tells CJR. The reporter asked not to be named for fear of workplace repercussions.

On average and across all job titles, women are paid 85 percent of what men earn at Dow Jones.

Wall Street Journal spokespeople Colleen Schwartz and Steve Severing did not respond to repeated requests by phone and email to discuss the newsroom’s diversity. The union is still awaiting a response from management, which has promised to review the latest analysis. CJR sought on-record comment from Journal reporters via the union, but none were willing to be named.

The union representing 1,200 workers at Dow Jones analyzed employment data last year to identify inequality, and re-analyzed salaries this month to pinpoint inequality among workers with similar jobs, experience, and positions in the same locations. The latest set of numbers, released June 20, arrived via an independent analysis.

On average and across all job titles, women are paid 85 percent of what men earn at Dow Jones, according to the report.

The union cites a persistent underpayment of women in the reporter job category, where they offered a breakdown by age to account for similarity in experience. A 31-year-old female reporter in the newsroom will, on average, make $67,905, whereas a male reporter of the same age will be paid $77,249. That wage gap widens to more than $25,000 by age 64. There are age groups or roles in which women sometimes make more at the Journal—among 48-year-old reporters, for example, women out-earn men by nearly $15,000. A woman’s salary in a given age can be higher for “any number of reasons: fewer employees aged 48, more ‘star’ female reporters at 48, far more male reporters at age 48,” and so forth, says Tim Martell, the executive director of IAPE TNG/CWA Local 1096.

The union’s analysis demonstrates that men are typically paid more for the same years of experience—particularly reporters in their 30s.

These more detailed results and a second analysis were deemed necessary because after the initial analysis was released in 2016, “we were called out by Dow Jones,” says Martell. “They felt that the union’s review was flawed, and there was no pay gap based on gender and ethnicity at Dow Jones. We thought the company was mistaken.”

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To its credit, the company responded by conducting its own analysis in 2016, and found some disparity, though it claimed only about 3 percent of its employees were being underpaid. The widest wage gap the Journal’s analysis uncovered was a 27 percent underpayment of one employee relative to her peers in similar roles. Those salaries were amended—a rare win and self-correction, though plenty of employees feel it doesn’t go far enough.

The widest wage gap the Journal’s analysis uncovered was a 27 percent underpayment of one employee relative to her peers in similar roles.

The union insists the gender wage gap is wider than the company believes, and they analyzed salaries between 2000 and 2016 to reach that conclusion. They also point to other problems with promotions and policies. For example, the reporter who spoke with CJR notes “the only way to get a raise at the Journal is to get an outside offer”—which tends to be a  male-friendly path to advancement. “Research shows men tend to be more inclined to go get that offer” and women tend to be more loyal to their companies. Developing paths to promotion and training management to recognize success and strength of work, instead of relying on outside validation, would be fairer.

Other problems raised by the emails include a loss of female leadership, notably the departure of former Deputy Editor in Chief Rebecca Blumenstein to join the masthead at The New York Times in February. In the March letter, staffers wrote, “Our highest ranking female role model left the company earlier this year. There are currently four women and eight men listed as deputy managing editors, and both editorial page editors are men. Nearly all the people at high levels at the paper deciding what we cover and how are white men.” (Disclosure: Blumenstein serves on CJR’s Board of Overseers.)

Management has pledged to do more in the past. In a March 28 response to the note signed by 200 members of his staff, Editor in Chief Gerard Baker noted changes to come, albeit in somewhat generic terms: “We are absolutely committed to fostering and developing a highly successful and welcoming workplace that provides the best possible opportunities for all of our journalists, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation,” Baker wrote in the note.

The pledge rings a bit hollow for the reporter in the newspaper’s women’s advocacy group. Change has lagged. She notes there isn’t an LGBTQ advocacy group, or a black, or a Hispanic advocacy group, “because there isn’t an incredible amount of them [in the company], which frankly is unusual for a company of our size.”

Considering the institutional knowledge of workplace matters that sits in the Journal’s newsroom, there’s potential for the organization to introduce real, fundamental, and standard-setting workplace changes.

“I think we don’t really take the advice or the examples that we have in our own pages and apply them to our organization as much as we should,” the reporter tells CJR. “If anything, a newsroom like the Journal newsroom should be at the forefront of this because it is such a marquee brand. It’s a missed opportunity.”

In the most recent note to the women’s advocacy group, dated June 13, Baker promises change, and soon.

“For now, we are right in the final stages of nailing down the new newsroom leadership structure, and I should be in position to make some announcements about this by early July.  You’ll get a chance then to observe how we address the leadership issues you raised, as well as some of your other concerns,” he writes.

Women have listened to similar promises for years.

The male-to-female ratio at Dow Jones in 1991 was 54-to-46. Today it’s 53-to-47. The numbers were noted then as part of a formal grievance women filed about a gendered pay gap: on average, women were paid about 24 percent less than men.

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More than 25 years later, the newsroom is still asking for parity. Women have had to fight, and have won some victories. In 2002, it took filing a federal complaint for women at Dow Jones to gain equity in health care coverage, leading them to join ranks of women workers across the country—from Wal-Mart to CVS—who sought federal and court intervention to force employers and insurers to cover birth control as they would any prescription.

“If you look, again, through our history there have been quite a few topics over the years where the union has brought something to management’s attention and they have not acted immediately. And I really don’t know if we can expect them to act immediately to correct what we believe is a problem,” Martell says.

No publication is as well equipped to dissect the workplace as The Wall Street Journal. It’s time for its newsroom to shine a light on its own investment in diversity and fairness.

So it takes a certain courage to push back and say the time to change is now. It takes a certain courage to defy the weight of human history and demand equality.

For women and other minorities in newsrooms, demanding the rights that journalism so often works to protect has become a part of that weighty discourse. At some point, fair and equitable treatment of employees will become a credibility issue for newsrooms—if it isn’t already.

With its deft and incisive coverage, no publication is as well equipped to dissect the workplace as The Wall Street Journal. It’s time for its newsroom to shine a light on its own investment in diversity and fairness.

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Shaya Tayefe Mohajer teaches journalism at the University of Southern California and works as a freelance journalist in Los Angeles. Previously, she was the news editor for and a reporter for The Associated Press. She is a graduate of New York University's masters program in journalism. Follow her on Twitter @Shaya_in_LA.