Former Newsweek writers Lynn Povich and Jesse Ellison spoke about past and present gender disparities in the workforce Wednesday in a discussion co-sponsored by the Journalism and Women Symposium at Fisk Hall.
Povich, the first female senior editor at Newsweek magazine and editor-in-chief of Working Woman magazine, addressed the degree to which gender discrimination existed in the journalism industry in the '60s. Povich, who began as a secretary for Newsweek, was one of 46 women who successfully sued the magazine for sex discrimination.
"If you wanted to write, you were told to go write somewhere else," Povich said. "Women didn’t write at Newsweek."
In her book, The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace, Povich tells the story of the lawsuit that set a precedent for the representation of women in the media.
"It put all the corporations on notice that if you didn’t integrate, you’ll get sued," Povich said.
While at Newsweek Jesse Ellison, a graduate of Columbia Journalism School, came face to face with her first experience of sexism in the workforce. She and her female colleagues felt frustrated when their male coworkers would obtain raises and multiple story assignments while women still remained underrepresented in byline counts.
"We were really surprised to learn that this big lawsuit had happened and was really transformative, yet had been lost to history," Ellison said.
As a reaction to the rumors of the lawsuit, Ellison and two additional writers received "secret approval" from one editor to begin reporting about the issue. On the 40th anniversary of the lawsuit, the story was published.
"My fear was that my male peers would take it as an attack to them, but they were really receptive and open to it and it lead to great discussion,” Povich said. “However, the top tier felt under attack a little bit."
Some audience members thought it was odd that Ellison’s piece was done in such a covert manner.
"It was interesting that the story was being done in secret,” said Pamela Esparza, Medill freshman. “I mean we’re in the 21st century. You would think that they would be more open about it."
Others in the audience were moved by the testimony presented by Ellison.
"Hearing from Jesse was a big deal because she is part of our generation and her fight was very inspiring and empowering," said Elle Metz, journalism graduate student.
Both Ellison and Povich later discussed possible solutions to amend the gender gap that is present in the workforce, especially since women represent 70 percent of Medill’s student body, according to moderator Michele Weldon. They along with members of the audience hope the situation betters itself in the future.
"It’s not a women issue; it’s a societal issue," Povich said.