Closing the General Manager Gender Gap

Why only one in seven station GM positions are held by women -- and why there is reason to believe that number will jump soon

When Marla Drutz arrived in Detroit as an ambitious
young research analyst in 1989, the market featured a
robust tradition of females running TV stations. Drutz
was mentored by a pair of respected general managers at WXYZ,
Jeanne Findlater and Grace Gilchrist, while Amy McCombs was
another role model as the WDIV boss. If those women could attain
the highest level at a TV station in a “lunch pail town” like Detroit,
recalls Drutz, she knew it was possible for her as well. “There was
the perception that it could be done,” Drutz says. “My experience
was that women could have any job at the station. People in the
business told me that, and showed me that.”

Drutz did eventually reach that level, as WDIV appointed her
general manager in 2008. Yet while she came of age amidst a rich
heritage of female general managers, Drutz currently represents the
only female GM in DMA No. 11. It may not be a particularly strong
showing for Detroit, but at least that’s one more female station chief
than the Big Four stations have in New York,
Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta, Denver, Cleveland,
Indianapolis and Baltimore.

No one disputes that women have made giant
strides in local television, as evidenced by Emily
Barr’s promotion this month from WLS Chicago
general manager to Post-Newsweek president
(Barr is Drutz’s new boss). Yet female leadership
at TV stations is still woefully lacking.

B&C tabulated general manager gender at Big
Four stations in the top 100 markets and found
that approximately 59 out of 388 station general
managers, or 15.2%, are female. (B&C included
a handful of large-market stations outside the
traditional Big Four, such as WGN Chicago,
KTVK Phoenix and KMEX Los Angeles.)

An August 2011 survey by Radio Television Digital News Association
(RTDNA)/Hofstra University revealed that just 15.8% of the general
managers at all news-producing stations were female, which was “virtually
unchanged” from the previous year, says study author Bob Papper.

While most station group chiefs will readily offer that their target viewer is female, women don’t seem to always get
the same degree of attention when it comes to hiring
general managers. “A number of companies do
a good job of hiring women in these positions, and
others have stepped in more recently,” says Deb
McDermott, president of Young Broadcasting. “But
we all need to do a better job.”

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'Spousal Veto' Looms Large

Local TV veterans offer a wide array of educated
guesses as to why male general managers outnumber
females almost 7 to 1. Their responses suggest
the issue is less about the hiring practices of broadcast
companies than with the female candidates
themselves. While gender roles have undoubtedly
shifted over the decades, with more women chasing
challenging careers and more men sharing the
parenting workload, it’s evident that the bulk of
domestic responsibilities still remain with women.

Faced with the herculean task of programming
a 24/7 multiplatform media outlet, managing several large departments
and performing the considerable civic roles required of a station
general manager, not to mention periodically hopscotching from
state to state to manage larger stations, many women appear content
to remain in a less demanding role. “Some people just don’t have
the support system,” says Rebecca Campbell, president of the ABC
Owned Television Stations group. “That holds them back—they don’t
feel they can do both [family and career].”

Marci Burdick, senior VP at Schurz Communications, has seen
women in broadcasting draw what she calls “tight circles” around
their career aims. They are very specific
about the position, station and market
they want to work in, and will turn
down promotions that don’t fit inside
their circle. “It often has to do with
family issues—raising children, providing
care for aging family members,”
Burdick says. “That in" uences career
decisions, and I hear that more from female
candidates than male candidates.”

And in an economy that continues
to sputter, some broadcast vets say the
“spousal veto” is increasingly a factor in
preventing women from taking a general
manager position, particularly one that
involves relocation. “In this economy,
anybody who has a job wants to keep
their job,” says one veteran female general
manager. “If the spouse can’t get a
comparable job, he won’t go.”

Other industry watchers cite a lack of
con! dence or assertiveness among female
broadcasters, or a paucity of female role
models in management ranks. DJ Wilson,
president and general manager at KGW
Portland, mentions a number of women
lining up to thank her after she introduced a mayoral debate recently, for
simply being a community leader who is female. “Maybe women haven’t
had mentors to show them they can play at this level,” Wilson says.

Men Control Sales, Sales Controls Pipeline

Amidst a local media environment that is increasingly about roundthe-
clock content, general managers come from a broader array of station
departments, including news, finance and creative services. The
RTDNA/Hofstra study showed that 28% of news directors are female,
and the number is climbing. Yet sales, still one of the more maledominated
departments, continues to be
the primary pipeline for general managers.
“More and more general managers
come out of news, but that’s not where
most come out of,” says Papper. “I’d bet
you there are more women in sales than
there used to be, but it’s still dominated
by men.” (Neither RTDNA nor the TVB
trade association have statistics on gender
breakdown in station sales departments.)

To be sure, the 15% female general
managers figure represents, by all accounts,
an improvement over previous
eras in local TV. “Fifteen years ago, it
wasn’t 2%,” says one veteran female station
leader. “I’m sure of it.”

Moreover, that figure is consistent
with other industries—meaning broadcasting
isn’t much better or worse at
producing female leaders than, say,
banking or telecommunications. A recent
Wall Street Journal/McKinsey study
on gender in management showed that
53% of entry level jobs went to women,
falling to 35% at the director level, 24%
among senior VPs and only 19% in the so-called C-suite.

Research firm Catalyst reported that Fortune
500 companies’ director/executive officer ranks are
14.1% female, while the Bureau of Labor says 38%
of general, and 51.5% of professional, workplace
managers are women.

“[Broadcasting’s 15%] is not too out of line with
other industries,” says Anne York, a pay equity
specialist and associate professor of economics at
Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C.

Yet the low representation among female general
managers is more striking in local TV, considering
that female viewers typically outnumber male ones
by several percentage points and are sought after by
marketers for their outsize clout in daily purchasing
decisions. ABC’s Campbell mentions being up for
a program director job at WPVI Philadelphia years
ago, and falling right into the station’s key women
25-54 demo. “I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t you hire
me—I was right there!” she says. “I had the same
life experience [as the target audience], and I think
that connection is really good—not just for a television
station, but for any organization.”

And as stations’ viewership bases become more diverse, particularly
with the sustained influx of Hispanic viewers, several industry insiders
say greater diversity in a station’s management ranks can be a strategic
advantage. “The communities we serve are increasingly diverse,
with more multicultural backgrounds,” says Barr of Post-Newsweek.
“I think we’re all paying attention to that as much as we can.”

While the increase in female news directors is heartening, York
says more females in the GM ranks will make for a broader range of
perspective when it comes to content. “Given the role of media in
society to inform the public and in some way to shape public debate
by the types of stories that are told and how they are told,” she says,
“I would argue that much more needs to be done for women to have
leadership roles at TV stations."

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Best and Brightest Broadcasters

While the RTDNA’s figure on female general managers was flat from
2010 to 2011, other indicators suggest that things are poised to get
more balanced. With Barr’s promotion this month, a number of major
station groups, including Post-Newsweek, ABC, NBC, Schurz and
Young, feature female chiefs, while women also hold CEO titles at
Gannett, Belo and Fisher.

Campbell cites a get-together for ABC Owned Television Stations,
when she, senior VP of digital media Carla
Carpenter, Emily Barr, and senior VP of
sales Debra O’Connell, along with VP of
engineering Dave Converse, presented to
Anne Sweeney, president of Disney/ABC
Television Group.

Colleen Brown, Fisher president/CEO,
mentions a corporate leadership summit in
Seattle last summer, which featured 10 men
and 10 women. “When I got into the business
32 years ago, there were [just a few]
female general managers,” Brown says. “We
seem to have made huge progress. In the
not-too-distant future, I don’t think we’ll
look at it in terms of women or men.”

After all, every woman in a TV station
leadership role -- from Colleen Brown to Raycom VP of news Susana
Schuler to Belo senior VP Kathy Clements -- is a reminder to thousands
of aspiring young women that those positions are open to anyone
with the right smarts, drive and ambition.

For Marla Drutz, seeing her boss, the retiring broadcast legend Alan
Frank, succeeded by Emily Barr was another indicator that—despite
statistics that suggest otherwise -- any and every post in local TV is attainable.
“You absolutely can have this job and a family and have a
wonderful life,” Drutz says. “Men have proven that to us for decades.”

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