Climbing the ranks: WIN launches in South Africa

04 Ingrid Case Study 1

Participants and staff of WIN South Africa.

The Women In News programme addresses the critical issue of gender parity at the management level in the African media industry by equipping women media professionals with the skills, strategies and confidence to move to greater levels of decision-making within their media companies.

After two years in the works, the Women in News South Africa programme launched in June 2014 to respond to a decades in the making problem: a disproportionate number of women in high-level media positions. While the country has a vibrant media scene, it has been shaped by the country’s political history and to this day is characterised by a profound gender parity.

“We have a legislative framework that actually is a social contract between business and government and essentially what it says is that we try and right the wrongs of the Apartheid government, which has resulted in the media being in white hands, white-owned and white managed,” said Ingrid Louw, the CEO of Print and Digital Media SA, which represents more than 90 per cent of the media industry in South Africa. “There are very few women in high positions and so it’s one of our weaknesses in the industry.”

Louw, who had an extensive media career before joining the association in 2007 and a background in teaching high school, was summoned to parliament two years ago to respond to a survey taken of women in power in the 20 years since the end of Apartheid.

“I was trying to find a way to tell my members, yes there is a problem and yes, there is a solution as well,” said Louw. “The WIN programme was an elegant coming together of a need and a solution.”


Ingrid Louw.

In this context, Louw worked exhaustively with WAN-IFRA, as well as the South African National Editors Forum(SANEF), to bring the exclusive programme to the continent’s most southern tip because of its proven model for success in a number of other Southern African countries.

Over the past three years, 50 women have graduated from WIN in Botswana, Namibia and Zambia with 88% of them gaining more responsibility, 35% securing a promotion and 62% reporting more opportunities to progress in their companies after completion of the programme.

Running from late June to November 2014, WIN South Africa brought together 20 promising women in middle management – on both the business and editorial side of newspapers and magazines – from Independent Newspapers, The Times Media Group, Caxton, Media 24, Mail and Guardian, the Association of Independent Publishers and the Media Development & Diversity Agency.

In addition to facilitated group mentoring, skills development, networking and individual coaching, participants also received a Media Management and Leadership Skills certification and accreditation in Media Management from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Overcoming challenges

As the first WIN programme to be held in South Africa, there were inherent obstacles to getting it off the ground. Firstly, convincing the board of Print & Digital Media SA that WIN – as a pilot in the country – was the right solution to a blatant problem across media houses.

“They were sceptical because as a media house they spend a lot on training and sometimes the training doesn’t deliver what it means to deliver,” said Louw.

However, the conversation took a turn after consulting with human resources at all of the media houses and realising that no other programme or training was focusing solely on women.

Once Louw received the green light, securing funding became a second major hurdle, and one that Louw says would have been impossible without co-funding and on-going support from WAN-IFRA and its partnership with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).


Members of WIN South Africa (Ingrid Louw pictured second from left).

After the foundation was in place, WAN-IFRA supplied the partners on the ground with materials from previous programmes that could be tailored to fit the local context. For example, the training materials for other Southern African countries were more focused on women already in senior management positions. However, in South Africa very few women sat at the helm of their company so it needed to be adjusted for women holding middle to senior positions.

Louw says that she would not have been able to see the programme to fruition without WAN-IFRA, adding that its expertise across the industry has been especially invaluable.

“It’s particularly challenging for a country that is supposedly a third world country that’s trying to achieve these things in an industry that is undergoing such deep change and has all these challenges,” said Louw. “Having WAN-IFRA to lean back on for me is extremely important and to just get that kind of advise and support.”

Instant impact

WIN South Africa has consisted of a jam-packed programme filled with peer networking, group sessions and five one-on-one meetings with a veteran media professional with the end goal of boosting confidence, increasing skills sets and bridging the gap between the editorial and business sides of a publication.

While the first session focused on everything digital, the second meeting gave everyone a chance to voice a problem – from why is it hard to delegate responsibilities, how to find confidence in a male-dominate environment, to ways to manage one’s boss – and brainstorm a solution with their new peers. Other topics addressed have been financial management, data mining to skills for investigative journalism.

Mid-way through the programme Barratt and some of the women had already reported results, from a quick boost in confidence to securing a higher-management position at work.

“What I’ve seen change with quite a lot of the women, and what I’m hoping really to see more of, is greater confidence and greater self-belief in their abilities to give leadership in their work environments,” said Barratt, adding that she hopes the women make friends because having a network of women down the line can have huge benefits.

Tiny Koaho, an accounts manager at the Sunday Times in Johannesburg and a participant in WIN, said that when she first saw the programme advertised she told herself “it’s about time there is a programme to help women advance.”

“We have been having a problem with print media currently. We don’t know where the future is – online, mobile?” Koaho said. “So we also had a chance to learn more on where the direction of media is going and how do we reflect and embrace the changes in the market.”

While the group sessions have given her tangible skills to move ahead, the one-on-one sessions gave her time to discuss her career three, five, and even 10 years down the line.

At the same time, she received the confidence to discuss her opportunities at work and on 1 September, Koaho started in a new senior position.

Lasting success

While the programme came to a close at the beginning of November, Louw hopWin session at PDMSA Offices - to carry on the conversations to ensure that there is lasting impact and that the participants – or their workplaces – don’t slide back into the status quo.

Part of this will entail discussions with human resources departments and management in individual media houses to gauge whether the programme and new skills and confidence building has opened new avenues for the women.

“It is not just about sending participants, but we need to ensure that there is buy in and commitment from the media house,” said Louw. “Is the culture supportive of them? Is there succession in place? Is their career path in place?”

Unlocking job opportunities for South Africans – especially women – is crucial to the country’s on-going recovery and transformative process since the end of Apartheid in 1994. The WIN South Africa programme puts a focus on women – at an industry level – and equips them to rise to the top of the media –and the country is watching.

In near time, Louw will be again summoned to South Africa’s parliament to report on the status of women in high-ranking media positions. “We need to say this where we were two years ago when we started and this is where we are at now so they can see that there is progression,” Louw said. “That is important.”

-Alexandra Waldhorn

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