According to a recent report from the research group OnePoll, journalism ranks among the careers that are least accommodating to family life. This is due to the demanding nature of the profession, characterized by long hours, late nights, and a substantial workload. It’s no surprise that the high-pressure, high-stress environment of journalism isn’t particularly conducive to balancing the responsibilities of motherhood. Additionally, the prevalence of ingrained sexism in the industry further complicates matters, often leaving many women with a difficult choice: pursuing a career in journalism or starting a family.
Female journalists are increasingly discussing these challenges and engaging in open conversations about how to juggle pregnancy and motherhood with their professional lives.
In the 1950s and 1960s, it was entirely acceptable to terminate the employment of a female journalist upon learning of her pregnancy, a practice that was all too common. Eileen Shanahan, who worked at United Press International during the 1960s, recalled, “In those days, you didn’t work much past the point where you started showing. I left my job at five months, and I remember a colleague at [United Press] asking me, ‘Aren’t you embarrassed, appearing like that?'”
Some women who shared their oral histories reported being compelled to undergo pregnancy tests before being offered a job, and others were explicitly told not to return to work once their pregnancies became visible. In the 1950s and 1960s, the concept of maternity leave was virtually non-existent. Ruth Ashton Taylor, a television newswoman with a career spanning over 50 years, explained, “You had to resign and have a baby, and that was the only option. They wouldn’t allow you to remain employed while having a child, and the idea of taking leave was not even considered.”
One might be inclined to dismiss these gender-based prejudices as relics of the past, but our research indicates that many of these injustices continue to persist in the field of journalism today. The stigma surrounding pregnancy and motherhood remains deeply ingrained in the culture of modern newsrooms, causing many women in our study to feel apprehensive about disclosing their pregnancies to their superiors.
Beyond the issue of maternity leave, there are substantial challenges when it comes to actually obtaining it. Our research highlights that many news organizations have ambiguous maternity leave policies, and management often lacks transparency regarding these policies.
Although women in journalism have made significant progress since the 1950s, thanks in part to the tenacity of female journalists who confronted sexism in the industry, there is still a considerable journey ahead. Our research suggests that women journalists continue to face stigmatization for becoming mothers, encounter inequitable maternity leave policies, and must battle for their rights to time and space within their workplaces.