"Pioneers, Girlfriends and Wives:" an Agenda for Research on Women and the Organizational Culture of Broadcasting

By Phalen, Patricia F. | Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

"Pioneers, Girlfriends and Wives:" an Agenda for Research on Women and the Organizational Culture of Broadcasting


Phalen, Patricia F., Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media


   But I think the role of women inside these systems ... follows the same
   damned definitions: pioneer, "girlfriend," ... wife, mother. Earth-mother.
   (TV news director)

Although women have long been in positions of some visibility in broadcasting, surprisingly few scholarly publications have explored their experience as managers in the broadcast media. With some notable exceptions (e.g., Coyle, 1988; Lind, 1996), work on this topic for the most part has been either biographical, dealing with "stars," journalists, or well-known personalities (O'Dell, 1997; Paisner, 1989; Signorielli, 1996), or critical-cultural, focusing on images, female audiences and employment patterns (e.g., Baehr & Ryan, 1984; Baehr & Dyer, 1987; Creedon 1993; Lont, 1995). At the same time, the management literature contains a rich array of observations and theoretical insights about the experiences of women in management, but it does not explore the broadcast industry in depth. The development of a more complete institutional history of media requires the integration of these insights with a thorough understanding of the experiences of women broadcast managers. This integration will lead to new research questions to highlight the contributions and experiences of women in electronic media (see Henry, 1993).

The culture of broadcast organizations offers one key to explaining the experiences of women within it. According to Schein (1990), culture can be defined as:

   a) a pattern of basic assumptions, b) invented, discovered, or developed by
   a given group, c) as it learns to cope with its problems of external
   adaptation and internal integration, d) that has worked well enough to be
   considered valid and therefore e) is to be taught to new members as the f)
   correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems. (p.
   111)

This pattern emerges as a group struggles to solve problems that are external and those that relate to internal integration. In addition to the artifacts and values that can often be easily uncovered, cultures include a set of accepted responses or assumptions that are more difficult to identify (Schein, 1990). These assumptions exist at the industry as well as the company level. As Gordon explains, "Organizations are founded on industry-based assumptions about customers, competitors, and society, which form the basis of company culture" (p. 399). In other words, individuals across different firms respond to similar problems in culturally acceptable ways (Gordon).

The present study examines the experiences of women managers in the context of the broadcast industry's corporate culture. It describes the career experiences of women managers in the broadcast media and identifies elements of the corporate culture that shape those experiences.

BACKGROUND

Literature pertinent to this topic cuts across several disciplines, including management, organizational behavior and communications. Management-related studies of women professionals seek to identify such factors as the causes of dissatisfaction among female managers, central issues facing women in the workplace, mentoring patterns, and barriers to the advancement of women (see Davidson & Burke, 1994). Research on these issues suggests that women find it difficult to fit into a circle where the shared experiences of men unite its members (Still, 1994). They are often excluded from the informal networks established by men (Burke & McKeen 1995; Hennig & Jardim, 1977, Lind, 1996), and they experience obstacles to advancement, because both the formal and informal organizations are biased in favor of the work and life experiences of men (Taylor, 1988). They often have to work harder than male colleagues to gain the same level of respect (Hanson, 1989).

Women managers identify networking as a critical issue facing them in the work environment (Larwood & Wood, 1995). …

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