Journalist Ann Curry has a message for corporate America about listening to the needs of women.
“More than 90% of Fortune 500 companies are run by men in a country where the population is largely women. For your bottom line, for your ability to meet the needs of the people who buy your products, it is insane for you to not bring the voices of the consumers into your boardrooms, into your leadership so that you can do a better job,” Curry stated during an exclusive one-on-one interview at Hearst Tower in New York.
Statistics from the Pew Research Center support her position. Just 20% of board members in Fortune 500 companies were women in 2016. In 2017, only 5% of Fortune 500 companies had a female CEO and women accounted for 27% of executive and senior-level managers in S&P 500 companies.
Yet women over the age of 16 years made up 54% of the labor force in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Sporting organizations want to reach women viewers. People who run investment companies have to deal with more and more women, with more and more money. Women are buying cars, women are making financial decisions,” says Curry.
“We are the largest single group of humanity in this country. And yet we are not in leadership roles that reflect that. And we are largely the consumers of journalism, and the consumers of a lot of what corporate America creates.”
Curry notes that sidelining women not only impacts the intellectual capital in companies but also the overall health of the economy. She calls for corporate leaders to be instruments of change in ensuring that the careers of victims of discriminatory workplace behavior are not derailed.
“The saddest part of these harassment stories across corporate America has been the suffering of these women. But in addition, has been the loss of valuable work and talent in your companies.”
Curry believes that the #metoo and TimesUp movements are a part of a long overdue turning point in American culture. She recalls her first television job in Medford, Oregon in the late 1970s where she was not only the first female reporter in the history of the local TV station but where she says she was also one of few people of color in the community. Curry was told by a male colleague that she would not succeed in TV news.
“He said, ‘You cannot be a news reporter because women have no news judgment.’ And I became a reporter who ended up with the largest beat in that station.”
After proving to her colleagues in Medford that she could excel at the job, Curry felt a responsibility to pave the way for other talented minorities coming into the news business. She says that she saw herself as a groundbreaker and a role model to minorities, and it was that responsibility that she was referring to when she apologized for not being able to carry the ball over the finish line, in her emotional farewell speech from the Today Show in 2012.
“I’ve always thought, if I just work hard enough, if I just do the work really well then I will be valued,” says Curry. “But I’m sure for a lot of women, and throughout history we’ve seen that, that’s not always enough.”
In addition to increasing the numbers of female board members, Curry hopes that boardrooms across the country are now having discussions about how to protect their employees from harassment. Human resource departments currently don’t have enough power to protect their workers, she says.
“Some of the people that have been accused could be in roles that essentially run or oversee human resource departments. So, in the end that’s ineffective. I just don’t know how we believe that would work.”
Curry made a number of suggestions to improve workplace conditions within corporations, ranging from creating partnerships with outside groups, to an ombudsman who can oversee and evaluate claims to ensure that workplaces are safe environments.
“I think we probably need an outside agency that’s connected to the Attorney General’s office that has oversight and investigative powers. And I would hate for it to come to that, because it would be a very busy office. But I would not hate for it to happen, if it was the only way for women not to feel shame when they actually are victims,” says Curry.
Curry declined to discuss her former Today co-anchor Matt Lauer or speak specifically about her time at the Today show, but she did speak broadly about the need to elevate more women into positions of leadership in the media, and for the editorial voice to more accurately reflect audience demographics.
“This is not only about equality and fairness. It’s about improving the product. Across the media in every newspaper and in all forms of media, the likelihood of a woman being in charge is very slim,” says Curry.
“Because of the power imbalance, rarely do women have the final say. So the work is ultimately done for the approval of male bosses, who make the decisions about who is assigned to do certain stories, who is interviewed for those stories, how stories are written and edited, and how they are presented to the public. So what you can get is a version of a story that would most appeal to men.”
Curry revealed that she did not face battles to tell female-focused stories at the Today show during her tenure there, as it is a program geared towards female viewers and was therefore receptive to stories about women. She did, however, fight to tell stories at Today that involved serious subject matter such as poverty, job loss, and genocide.
When asked why it was difficult to get stories focused on those issues over the line, Curry stated that it was because of the high cost of producing that type of content and that it was believed that those serious topics were not of interest to the audience.
“The truth is that we are living in a time when journalism is struggling to figure out its financial future. And these are the kinds of stories that are more of a gamble, more of a risk than much of what you see on these broadcasts today.”
After leaving the Today Show, Curry founded a production company called Ann Curry Inc, focused on domestic and international human-interest stories. The company co-produced ‘We’ll Meet Again’ with Blink Films in 2017, and will premiere the weekly PBS series on January 23. Executive produced and reported by Curry, ‘We’ll Meet Again’ features reunions of people whose lives crossed at pivotal moments throughout history.
Curry has been impressed by the commitment of PBS leadership in telling stories that matter.
“There is a sense in the leadership at PBS that they trust their gut about what is good material. They are not doing minute by minute (ratings) assessments,” says Curry.
Her evolution into being the founder of a production company enables her to tell more of the stories that she is drawn to, such as reporting on domestic and international poverty and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Curry notes that in her view the Washington Post, New York Times and The Guardian are publications that are doing great work and that there is a need for more television coverage focused on big issues.
“We are in a time when people are very afraid about what will happen in the future. And so, I’m trying to do the stories that people are not paying attention to, and in places that they’re not reporting,” says Curry. “I am very proud of what I’ve done so far and excited about what I’m about to do in the future.”
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