Fight for Equal Pay in the US Newsrooms

Published: 10 December 2013

Country: USA

equal_payNancy Gibbs, the newly-appointed editor of Time, is a role model for many female journalists.

After having started as a part-time fact-checker in 1985, Ms Gibbs was promoted to Time’s managing editor in October. She is the 17th editor of the 90-year-old weekly, but the first woman to lead it. She is also known as an advocate for the equal pay.“I like the fact that glass ceilings are breaking all over. Probably very soon it won’t even be something anyone notices when you have a woman taking over one of these jobs,” she said during an interview with Forbes.

Soon after her promotion, Ms Gibbs set her sight on equal pay for female employees. She assessed the salaries of women within the organisation and made sure there was no gap between female and male employees of equal stature, Capital New York reports.

Sadly, pay discrimination is still a major issue across the USA, and is at the centre of a long-standing fight.

In 1963, when women would earn 59 percent of what men would, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act. The legislation, still in force, required employers to give women and men equal pay for equal work. Fifty years later, the gap is narrower, but still too wide. Today, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), women make 77 cents on average for every dollar that men earn.

The journalism sector is no exception and demands for equal pay are not new.

A milestone in the women journalists’ fight is the Newsweek uprising in the 1960s. “All of the writers and reporters were men, and everyone accepted it as that was the way the world was — until we didn’t,” Lynn Povich, a protagonist of the revolt, told NPR. Female employees sued their bosses asking for a third of the reporters and a third of the writers to be women, in addition to a female senior editor. They won and, five years after the lawsuit, Ms Povich became editor of the magazine.

Fifty years later, under a surface of equality, women still have to cope with hostile work environments.

Looking at the today’s young women at Newsweek, Ms Povich considers them competent and aware that they could do anything, just because they have been told. Still, she says, they see men being promoted faster than they are, but don’t understand why because, in the post-feminism, they think we are all equal now.

“Many women are so grateful to be offered a job that they accept what they are offered and don’t negotiate their salaries,” say Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever in the book Women Don’t Ask.

To put an end to the problem, there are those who think that the potential injustice should be acknowledged from the beginning of young women’s careers.

Michele Weldon, assistant professor of journalism at Northwestern University, said that for the first time she is considering adding these two sentences to the letters of recommendation to her female students: “I respectfully request that you offer her the same salary as a male candidate with her qualifications. If your company already has this gender balanced practive, I applaud you for your fairness.

While women represent only 40 percent of the newsroom staff across the USA, the journalism and mass communications female graduates are more than 70 percent, according to the 2012 Report on the Status of Women in U.S. Media.

In this bleak situation, it is no surprise that a woman reaching a top position and talking about equal pay always makes the headlines. Just like Nancy Gibbs.