Shirley Yam: "Of the 17 daily newspapers in Hong Kong, only 3 have a female chief editor"

Shirley Yam is the vice president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association

Shirley Yam

How would you describe the situation of women in media in your own country? What are the challenges they face reaching top level positions?

When it comes to gender inequality, the situation of women in media is no different from the rest of the society. While women form the majority of front-line reporters, they are the minority among editors. Of the 17 daily newspapers in Hong Kong, only 3 have a female chief editor. There is also a gender pay gap. According to 2017 census, women of tertiary education (where most journalists belong) were paid 17% less than their male peers.   

Cultural attitudes still prevent female journalists from being treated equally.  We are expected to bear more family responsibilities and to take career breaks for children at home.  The exceptionally long working hours within Hong Kong media has made the work and family balance difficult and blocked female from reaching the top jobs.  

As a woman who reached a leadership position, have you faced any obstacle because of your gender? if yes, which ones?

I was the Deputy Chief Editor of a newspaper before becoming a mother.   The long working hours and lack of child care support by the employer has made it impossible for me to stay in any managerial job.  I have become a part-time columnist ever since.

What are the consequences of the lack of women in managing positions in media?

Given the male dominance in management as well as the cultural factor, the media has failed its part in the elimination of gender inequality and stereotypes in our society.  Editorial guideline on gender equality is rare. The result is the reinforcement of gender bias by some media and the lack of gender equality news coverage.

That partly explained why #metoo movement has failed to take off in the city, despite public complaints by a few courageous female victims.  Sexual harassment has been tolerated by the industry. The most telling case happened in early 2018 at the high of the #metoo movement. Two football fans kissed a woman journalist on her cheek while she was reporting live.   The journalist pushed them away. She said via facebook that she was offended and would not have tolerated it had she not been reporting live. In response to media enquiry, a male executive director of her employer said: “That has already happened.  We can only laugh it off.” It is hard to imagine an editor could appreciate the problem of gender inequality and to put much resources into exposing it.

How can we solve this situation? Considering your personal experience, what would you suggest to reach gender equality in media? 

Family friendly policy including facilities to work from home should be installed to make it possible for woman to strive for the top post.   Gender equality should be made both a human resource policy as well as editorial guidelines. This promise to both the staff and readers is the first step to any improvement.

What could be the role of men journalists and media leaders in this process? 

Family friendly policy including facilities to work from home should be installed to make it possible for woman to strive for the top post.   Gender equality should be made both a human resource policy as well as editorial guidelines. This promise to both the staff and readers is the first step to any improvement.

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