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Gender parity

Last edited: July 28, 2020

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The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1979) requires Member States to “take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women the same rights” (CEDAW Article 11). The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) recognized that women in power and decision-making is a key condition for women’s empowerment and that it is critical “to increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication” (Beijing Platform for Action). Though achieving gender parity (equal numbers of men and women) in the staffing structures and decision-making bodies of media organizations is ideal, a thirty per cent threshold represents a critical mass for influence.

Where women’s representation within media has been tracked, progress has proven very slow with little movement over time. For example, global tracking of women’s representation as reporters and presenters in news media shows little to no progress in over a decade.  Women reporting stories in newspapers, television and radio newscasts have held steady at 37 per cent (Global Media Monitoring Project 2015). In a study surveying over 500 media companies across the globe, it was found that women held only 27 per cent of the top management positions (International Women’s Media Foundation 2011). The numbers in ICT firms is even lower, with women only comprising 11 per cent of information security professionals and 20% and less of the tech workforce across some of the top technology and social media firms (Center for Cyber Safety and Education et al., 2017). The European Women’s Audiovisual Network found that while women represent almost half of directors graduating from film schools, the overall proportion of female directors working in the industry is less than one-quarter (European Parliament 2018). The Geena Davis Institute has undertaken a vast body of research on women in entertainment media.  Some of its findings from studies undertaken since 2010 include (Geena Davis Institute):

  • Of the top grossing films, only 17% had a female lead.
  • Male characters received two times the amount of screen time as female characters.
  • Male characters spoke two times as often as female characters in the top box office movies.
  • Male characters have dominated nearly three-quarters of speaking parts in children’s entertainment, and 83% of film and TV narrators are male. 
  • In film, only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female. (This is for film and TV)
  • In Advertising and the creative industry specifically, research conducted by Free the Bid, the 3% Movement and the Young Creative Council showed:
    • In 2008, just 3.6% of the world’s creative directors were female. In 2016, that number tripled to 11%
    • Only 11.6% of women in the creative industry are copywriters and 9.6% are art directors
    • Less than 7% of all film directors are women and only 9% of commercials are directed by women
    • 70% of young female creatives say they have never worked with a female creative director or executive creative director
    • 70% of young female creatives are working in a 75% male-dominated department
    • 60% of young females say they believe advertising is a career that doesn’t support young families

Increasing women’s participation in the communications sector requires dedicated attention in recruitment processes, using strategies such as: affirmative action, quotas, desirable salaries (that reflect equal pay for equal work) and benefits, and research and training that can address unconscious bias and incorrect perceptions around hiring practices of men and women with equal skills. Retention of women staff involves opportunities for career development and advancement; mentoring, coaching and sponsoring women for promotion; respect for women’s decision-making, inputs, contributions and leadership styles; flexible working arrangements and parental leave policies that both acknowledge the persisting social and cultural factors that place a disproportionate responsibility on women for caretaking, but facilitate greater involvement of men in this regard; and recognition of the sexual and gender-based nature of violence (including harassment) that women face in the workplace with appropriate measures to prevent it and provide appropriate recourse mechanisms and remedies for those who have suffered it with accountability for those who have perpetrated it (McKinsey, 2015).


Women’s Economic Empowerment Principles

The Women’s Empowerment Principles established by UN Women and the UN Global Compact provide a concrete set of recommendations to help the private sector focus on key elements integral to promoting gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community.  Enhancing openness and inclusion throughout corporate policies and operations requires techniques, tools and practices that bring results. The Women’s Empowerment Principles, forged through an international multi-stakeholder consultative process, provide a “gender lens” through which business can analyze current initiatives, benchmarks and reporting practices.  Informed by real-life business practices, the Principles help companies tailor existing policies and practices – or establish needed new ones – to realize women’s empowerment.

The Principles:

·       Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality

·       Treat all women and men fairly at work - respect and support human rights and non-discrimination

·       Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers

·       Promote education, training and professional development for women

·       Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women

·       Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy

·       Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality

See the Women’s Empowerment Principles Portal and Resources:

Elements to consider in achieving gender balance among decision makers within media organizations, include (UNESCO, 2012):

  • Proportion of women in ownership, business management and board positions.
  • Proportion of women holding leadership positions within media (editors-in-chief, editors, heads of department, heads of desks).
  • Cyclical review and reporting on actions to ensure gender balance at decision-making levels.
  • Effective equal opportunity policies with comprehensive implementing measures, targets, timeline and monitoring mechanisms.
  • Equal opportunity policies developed within media houses in a cooperative manner and with endorsement of staff.
  • Measures/policies adopted for the removal all obstacles to equal opportunities and for the enhancement of women’s work. (e.g. company nurseries, part-time employment; shared and transparent selection criteria to reach management level, etc.).
  • Specific budget to support comprehensive equal opportunity policies.
  • Existence of specific quota system for representation of women in decision-making.
  • Existence of affirmative actions and affirmative action committees to increase female presence in media at all levels of the organizational structure.
  • Proportion of job announcements made in a transparent method, accessible to everyone in the workplace.
  • Publicity of policies on gender balance in decision-making.
  • Efforts to assess awareness of equal opportunities policies.
  • Reporting of performance results in relation to implementation of equal opportunities policies.


UNESCO Gender Sensitive Indicators for Media Guide. Available in English.

Gender Equality in Media. Available in English.

Advancing Gender Equality in Media Industries. Available in English.