International Women’s Day: Q&A with female members of the Community News Project governance committee

To mark International Women’s Day 2019 and highlight the importance of gender balance in the workplace – particularly in senior positions – we’ve conducted a Q&A with the following female members of the Community News Project governance committee:

Joanne Butcher, chief executive, National Council for the Training of Journalists
Laura Adams, content director, Archant
Sian Cox-Brooker, strategic partner manager, Facebook
 

What is your job and what does a typical day entail?

JB: I have overall responsibility for the charity’s strategy and operations. We’re responsible for attracting, qualifying and developing outstanding journalists from all walks of life who work to the highest professional standards.

One of the best things about this job is that there’s very little routine and every day is different. Today I’m in London for a board meeting with our trustees followed by lunch with our student council reps who are keen to tell us what they think about our training scheme and qualifications. After dealing with the never ending stream of emails I’m attending a function in the evening.

LA: As well as overseeing multiple newspaper titles in London, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Devon and Somerset, I also work on a number of central strategic initiatives. This means I travel frequently though modern technology and evolving communication methods mean I am constantly in touch with the different areas – my diary tends to be full of conference calls and webexes. One day is never the same because quite often it depends on what is happening at any given time. However I try and maintain structure and plan to be in different offices regularly and I organise my diary so that I have regular one-to-one contact with direct reports, team meetings and project/strategic meetings. I also pencil in time to devote to long-term projects.

SCB: I am part of a global team that collaborates with news organisations to support innovation, provide training, and tackle industry wide challenges together. As well as working closely with media organisations across the UK, I also work with Facebook product teams to develop tools and services that help work towards a sustainable news ecosystem. At the moment, I'm particularly focused on working with the local news industry. Before joining Facebook I worked as a journalist, first in papers and then at Sky News.

Is it more difficult for women to get into senior roles in your opinion? Why/why not?

JB: I’m not sure it’s more difficult if there is ambition, confidence and commitment but there’s definitely a gender imbalance in leadership positions. I’m currently recruiting for an exciting new senior role, our head of partnerships and projects, and I was disappointed that only 35 per cent of applicants were women. It’s one of the reasons why the focus of the NCTJ’s diversity strategy has been extended to cover equality and inclusion. I’m keen to encourage more women to aspire to fill a fairer share of the top jobs and I’d like to see more women running newsrooms and media businesses.

There is an equal gender split in journalism and some fantastic senior female role models but I still think it is a challenge for women to get to the top and to balance work and family commitments – it’s such an all-consuming business. We need to ensure our workplaces have flexibility and balance for both sexes. I advise young women with ambition to choose their partners carefully – make sure they will do their fair share of the childcare and chores if you both want careers.

LA: I think there are more opportunities than ever and certainly at Archant, there are many women in content and commercial senior roles – in fact, I think more so than men! Our executive board is also well represented by women.

SCB: When women speak 15% of the time, men perceive the conversation to be equal and when women speak 30% of the time they are perceived as dominating the conversation. Bias against women in leadership is deeply ingrained in society, and it is not surprising that every woman I know, particularly the ones in senior positions, has been called aggressive at work at some point. So yes, there are social, structural and institutional barriers in place (many of them invisible) that make it harder for women to succeed at work. That said, there are many brilliant women at senior positions in companies across the world who have broken through these barriers, and I’m pleased to say I work with several at Facebook. There's still work to do but we should take heart from their successes.

What is your role in the Community News Project and how did you get involved?

JB: The NCTJ is managing the £4.5m donation from Facebook to fund the employment and training of around 80 community reporters from diverse backgrounds. Working with our publishing partners, we will ensure there is robust quality assurance and, of course, we are playing an active role in training and qualifying the reporters. My role is to provide leadership on strategy and business planning, managing our relationship with the project partners and attending governance meetings. We’d been working on training projects with Facebook for a number of years and as an industry charity we were delighted to become a partner in this project.

LA: I am on the governance committee and the training group and was part of the launch last year. I am also working with my Archant colleagues to drive the project internally.

SCB: The Community News Project is led by the NCTJ and the regional press but I liaise closely with them to ensure the right training and resources are in place to assist the community reporters.

How do you see this project changing the journalism landscape?

JB: We want to show we have made a difference to the coverage of local journalism, the make-up of newsrooms and ensure that all recruits have been professionally trained and successfully completed an NCTJ qualification. If the partners make the pilot a success and it can be extended we have a wonderful opportunity to change the landscape of local public interest journalism.

LA: It has been interesting working with other publishers to make the project a success and there is a sense that the industry is beginning to unite and work together to secure the future of local journalism. It has never been more important to protect this – it is an uncertain time and communities need to be represented and championed more than ever while local authorities and organisations need to be held to account. In creating very specific roles of community journalists, who will be highly skilled in digital journalism, we are recognising how roles are evolving in the newsroom so that journalists are engaging online via many different digital channels and tools and offline, by immersing themselves in the community.

SCB: Having started my career at my local paper, I understand how local news really helps to inform and strengthen communities. Together with the NCTJ and regional news publishers, we want to help encourage more reporting in underserved areas of the UK. My hope is that, ultimately, the community news project helps more people access the news that matters to them most.

This year’s International Women’s Day 2019 focuses on a #BalanceforBetter campaign – to promote a better gender-balanced workplace and world. How important is it to have a gender balance in the workplace and why?

JB: To achieve equality, fairness and balance, we need to attract a mix of people from different backgrounds with different interests and viewpoints. This makes for a better business and a fairer world where women have the same choices as men.

LA: It is hugely important because gender balance reflects the make-up of the real world. We are in an industry where we need to understand the wants and needs of people in our communities – to do this successfully, our decision-making needs to be driven by people who are truly representative, whether that is in choosing the right local campaign or the front page splash in the newsroom, or making long-term strategic business decisions in the boardroom. It is widely accepted that men and women think differently – and bringing these two perspectives together make the workplace stronger.

SCB: Diverse companies are more profitable; diverse teams are smarter and they make better decisions. At Facebook, we build products for people across the world and without a diverse workplace we have no hope of ever achieving this. And from a personal point of view, I feel inspired to work with such an eclectic, interesting and diverse group of people every day - my professional life would be considerably less fulfilling were I surrounded by people who are exactly the same as me.

How do you support other women in your workplace?

JB: I try to lead by example and to support every member of my team to fulfil their potential and to help them set ambitious goals for their work and their careers. I encourage everyone to develop their leadership capabilities and to be involved in as many aspects of our work as possible. We try to practice what we preach so training, development, high standards and flexibility is instilled in our culture and we have a family friendly ethos. I think it’s really important to try to avoid gender stereotypes; the emphasis should be on the needs of an individual and their role in the organisation.

LA: I try to be supportive of everyone – regardless of gender – though I do try and be more alert and sensitive to specific issues that affect women (such as childcare). I want women to be aware that there aren’t any restrictions in their careers but I find this is less of an issue and most women developing through the ranks don’t see the barrier that they might have done a decade ago.

SCB: I speak up and I ask questions: why are there no women involved in this decision? Have you considered how a woman might feel about this? In general, people at Facebook are very receptive to my asking this kind of question but I know people in other companies struggle to get diversity and inclusion taken seriously.

I also encourage women: to speak up, to apply for promotions, to take opportunities. 

What careers advice would you give to women starting their careers in journalism?

JB: The same advice I’d give to anyone. Make sure that journalism is something you’re passionate about before making the commitment. Rather than getting hung up about gender I think it’s best to concentrate on proving yourself by doing a great job and choosing your career moves carefully so you work with people you can learn from and who will inspire you. Always work hard, don’t be afraid of taking risks and be ambitious rather than hold yourself back. Enjoy your working life and have fun!

LA: There is no glass ceiling! The barriers have broken down – there are more women in senior editorial positions than ever and male-dominated sectors such as sport and business are also beginning to change. Creating a work-life balance is important – and I think it makes you stronger and more creative at work. We are increasingly seeing women with young families thrive in their careers which is fantastic particularly as this was once seen as a barrier. I was first promoted to a senior position when my daughter was 8 months old – it was a juggling act and I needed to be very organised but it is achievable. Ultimately, women should follow their dreams and fulfil their ambitions – don’t let anything stand in the way!

SCB: Use your voice. If you have an idea, pitch it. If you want an opportunity, ask for it. If something doesn't seem right, speak up. Don't be put off by rejection. It's the wheel that squeaks that gets the oil.