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Research and Stories through a Gendered Lens

Walkley awards: bold move to even up gender imbalance

Jul 21, 2023 | Leadership, Equality, Gender, Journalism, Activism, Prize, News, Feature

Written by Karen Percy

Recognition and reward. It’s all we’re after isn’t it? That our hard work is noticed and that we’re paid fairly for it.

Right now Australia’s media industry has a chronic problem with both of these concepts. 

I’m the Deputy Chair of the Board of the Walkleys, the foundation which celebrates this country’s finest journalism and journalists. Except as a board we’ve discovered we actually haven’t fully recognised our highest-achieving colleagues.

Over the past year or so, the Walkley Foundation has undertaken a comprehensive and consultative review of its awards to ensure they are meeting industry expectations, the changing nature of our industry and reflect the work being done. The board was not part of that process, but we did take a look at the one award that is our purview, the Outstanding Contribution to Journalism award.

And what we noticed was that over 30 years, only seven women have received that honour. In contrast, 21 men were recipients. THREE TIMES the number of women. Two organisations have been honoured.

We hired a senior journalist to identify our industry’s great women. We called it Project Faustine, named in honour of 19th-century journalist Eliza Ann Ashton who often used Faustine as a byline for her stories published in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Daily Telegraph.

The project identified dozens of women – some well-known, others pioneers, but all making outstanding contributions to our media industry.

I have been a journalist for 36 years, starting well before this award was first handed out in 1992. I know there have been incredible high-achieving women in our industry, who have given so much. Where are they? Why aren’t they on this list?

Karen Percy speaking at the Walkley awards last year about ethics. Picture: Supplied

Karen Percy speaking at the Walkley awards last year about ethics. Picture: Supplied

The Walkley board is currently dominated by women. It wasn’t planned that way, it just happened. But we cannot unsee what we have now seen.

And so as a board, we have decided to act. This year we are opening the Outstanding Contribution to Journalism award to women nominees only.

Nominate a female journalist for the Outstanding Contribution to Journalism award here.

As Chair – and high-flying journalist! – Adele Ferguson noted in our press release when nominations opened, “as a board, we have realised that in giving one of our industry’s highest accolades, we have not considered all of those who have contributed. The numbers speak for themselves.

“This won’t change unless we are proactive as an industry,” she said.

And there’s little doubt the media sector has a serious ‘woman’ problem.

Our industry is more than 50 percent women, and we have all of the issues now of a ‘feminised’ workforce. The gender pay gap is about 16% in the media/communications sector, well above the national average of 13%.

The Industry Insight 2023 report from Women In Media reveals that as many as one third of women are considering leaving their jobs in the next year. More than half rated as ‘weak/very weak’ the industry’s commitment to gender equality. They cited bias and discrimination in the industry and a lack of support from employers.

And importantly they noted poor pay and a lack of career pathways.

It’s interesting isn’t it that they have identified that they are not being recognised, nor are they being rewarded for their efforts. Sounds familiar hey?

So we at the Walkley board are determined to do our bit to recognise our female colleagues.

The late journalist and WiM patron, Caroline Jones.

The late journalist and WiM patron, Caroline Jones. Picture: Women in Media

The late and great Caroline Jones – a patron of Women in Media – used to say “there’s a special place in heaven for women who help other women.”

The pioneering ABC reporter helped plenty. And she is – rightly – already amongst our Outstanding Contribution to Journalism winners.

While we’re not relying on a place in Caroline’s celestial corner, we will make multiple awards this year, to redress the gender imbalance.

This is not to undermine previous winners – who are an esteemed bunch. Nor to criticise previous board decisions. It’s simply an understanding that we too have the entrenched biases of our industry and it will take brave and bold action to overcome.

I proudly stand with my fellow directors in urging you to recognise and reward your female colleagues this year. Nominate early, nominate often!

Karen Percy is Deputy Chair of the Walkley Foundation Board. She spent decades with the ABC, including a stint as a foreign correspondent. These days she's MEAA Media President and works as a freelance journalist with a focus on ethical, trauma-informed, public interest journalism.

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