What’s it like to be a female tech reporter in Silicon Valley, particularly in the era of the #MeToo Movement? This question drew me towards signing up for the recent PRSA event An Evening with Women in Media and Communications in San Francisco. As a fairly new SHIFTer and member of the PR world, I have not been to many industry events, but this particular program caught my eye with its relevant topic and panel lineup of Connie Loizos from TechCrunch, Biz Carson from Forbes, and Abrar Al-Heeti from CNET.
As a woman and minority, I feel strongly about topics like diversity and inclusion, and was excited to hear their takes on what it’s like as a woman in the big world of media. Here are some of what I believed to be the most compelling stories from the panel discussion.
A common theme of the stories told by these women was encountering conscious and unconscious bias. Early in Connie Loizos’ career at a newspaper, she became pregnant with her first child. Soon after, her editor informed her that layoffs were coming and proceeded to ask her, “Don’t you want to be a full-time mom?” Despite her communicating that she’d obviously like to keep her job, Connie ended up getting laid off. Her boss’ unconscious bias told him that she might be happy to leave her job because she was a pregnant woman. Connie noted that this unfortunate incident motivated her to strike off on her own and start her own publication, StrictlyVC.
Biz Carson placed a strong value on inclusivity, noting that she avoids attending industry dinners or events with CEOs and VCs when she doesn’t see any women on the invitation. “There are many women in the space and they should be represented.” Biz recounted a story from one of her female colleagues who attended one of these all-male executive dinners. After the conversations and dinner ended, one of the men approached her to say, “I hope that wasn’t too technical for you.” At this, the event audience let out a collective groan (including myself). Biz said she’s not been immune to such biases, telling the audience of an email exchange with an editor-in-chief in which she expressed how much she would like to work at their publication, only to be called “emotional,” a word typically associated with women and an example of unconscious bias. Cue more groans!
Connie then asked a very interesting question to the group: “as a female journalist do you feel pressure to cover more women?” The general consensus was yes and no; they felt some obligation but as bona fide reporters, their journalistic duty to cover interesting stories prevailed over the gender of their subject. Connie noted that when a colleague asked her to cover his daughter’s newly founded company, she declined because it wasn’t fully baked. “It has to be something that will merit coverage.” Biz recalled a time when she and her male colleague at Forbes, Alex Konrad, were co-reporting and their gender dynamic worked in the best interest of the story. “Alex is great at the business side of a story and I’m better at the human element and our balance was ideal for that story,” she said.
A Silver Lining
Fortunately for these women, their careers have not been negatively impacted by these experiences and have instead shaped them into the strong, successful reporters they are today. They did not sound angry despite those experiences and were grateful to have not been victims of much worse treatment. The journalists on the panel also recognized that despite their differences there is a need for diversity, male and female, on teams because both provide a different perspective to writing compelling stories.
CNET’s Abrar Al-Heeti said she is the only Muslim woman in her office and luckily has not experienced discrimination, but quite the opposite. Abrar said she is highly valued at her job, called being a Muslim female journalist “an asset,” and cherishes her female editor-in-chief, who serves as an amazing mentor to her. Biz and Connie agreed that while working in media still has issues when it comes to diversity, it’s getting a lot better and they are hopeful for the future.
It was particularly interesting to hear the difference in experiences from Connie and Biz, who have been reporters for years, to Abrar, who is still fairly new. Abrar was actually the only woman of color on the panel, yet has never experienced prejudice in her career. For me, this reinforced the fact that there actually might be a brighter future and opportunity for women and minorities in the media and communications sectors, one that celebrates perspectives from all humans, regardless of race, gender, religion or life experiences.