FIU undergrads present research on women in communication

Sam Smith/ Staff Writer

Thursday, April 21, the Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver Center for the Advancement of Women in Communication and the Public Relations Student Society of America co-hosted “Equity and Equality of the Sexes in Communication,” a conference to discuss the status of women in communication fields.

Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver, the executive director of the center and dean emerita of FIU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Brian Schriner, the current dean of SJMC and the College of Architecture and the Arts welcomed students, faculty, staff and guest speakers at 1 p.m., introducing keynote speaker Susan Goldberg, the Editor-In-Chief of National Geographic Magazine and Editorial Director of National Geographic Partners.

Among a list of professors and university directors from across the country, undergraduate students presented their research, “What Women Tell Women About Working in Communication.”

Samiyyah Black, a junior digital media major, presented her team’s findings alongside SJMC professor Ted Gutsche.

Black said her team analyzed 15 hours of recorded webinars and seminars at the Kopenhaver center, and extracted four overarching themes women in communication spoke about. Empowerment, identity and purpose and leaning in.

“Our speakers encourage women to collaborate with one another because we’ll be able to share skills and progress further as opposed to doing it on our own – they said this is something that’s lacking.”

Because of social norms, Black said women still face stereotyping as homemakers which can affect their career. Even though emotions were often discussed in talks, there was also a need to show more nurturing attitudes between women in communication fields.

Also at the panel were Austriauna Brooks and Rachel Rogers, both students at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, who collaborated with them to create a website which allows users to interact with the data they found.

“We wanted a more readable platform so people could share it with their friends,” said Rogers. “It also allows people to share their own story on there.”

Ashley Orozco, a digital media studies senior at FIU who collaborated on the research Black presented, noted the importance of doing research in college.

“To not have the experience for the future really limits you in what you do,” said Orozco. “That’s why doing a research program is so helpful.”

Sofia de la Vega, another team member and digital media studies senior, agreed.

“What I liked about this project was the exposure. I’ve never done anything like this before, and working with them has been awesome.”

Black said she had conflicting feelings about their findings, and of the findings of other panelists at the conference.

“I’m a minority and I’m a female and I want to go into media,” said Black. “Hearing all this [research] has been discouraging, but at the same time it’s empowering to see women speakers speaking about how we can change these things.”

Andrew Trabazo was the only male student working on the research, and said although he knew about the disproportion before, the extent of it was “mind-blowing.”

“Everybody has women in their life, and that’s where the salience and the resonance comes in – everyone can relate to this,” he said. “That way we can bring males into the field who understand what’s happening. The only way to push past this is to collaborate together.”

Each of the team members were adamant that students should involve themselves more in undergraduate research in communications.

“Research shouldn’t just be required for science majors,” said Black. “There should definitely be way more with us [in communications].”

Judy VanSlyke Turk, a research fellow at the Kopenhaver Center, presented the results of a survey entitled “Are Communication Professionals Achieving Their Potential?”

This was the first survey of its kind from the Kopenhaver Center. Turk said that, every two years, the center plans to re-conduct the survey to track trends and progress in the field of communication.

Results showed that men in communications professions are three times more likely than women to hold top management positions. Reflecting trends in most of the American workforce, “women were considerably more likely than men to report salaries below the mean.”

“It is disappointing that we had not made more progress,” said Turk.

Some recurring problems addressed in the conference were addressed in the survey. For example, it found that 89 percent of women who felt they had been held back in their careers cited a lack of confidence, mentorship and work-life balance issues.

At the next panel, those findings were reinforced as each of four panelists took turns discussing anecdotal evidence and research results.

“Where are the Women? Why is Female Leadership Lacking at the Top of Communications Fields?” was held by Robyn Goodman, an advertising professor at the University of Florida, Noemi Marin, the director of the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies at Florida Atlantic University, Kelly Page Werder of the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications at the University of South Florida and panel moderator Tracy Everbach of the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas.

Everbach said the McKinsey Global Institute Report revealed that gender parity, though it would add $2.1 trillion to the United States GDP and 6.4 million jobs by 2025, has not been achieved in any aspect of the U.S. workforce.

One of the recurring barriers discussed were expectations in caring for the home, elderly parents and children. The idea of the “super-woman” was explained by Goodman, who said the expectation to be a full-time stay-at-home mom and a full-time CEO was an unattainable dream imposed upon Generation X, which leads to a sense of failure when a woman has to compromise between the two.

Marin gave suggestions regarding the need to talk about parity, and the importance of training women in negotiation, listening, networking and confidence.

“It’s very difficult to gain confidence if you see all the time that what you’re trying to do is not necessarily approached the same way,” she said. “But I have faith in the millenials that they will show me more confidence. Once they do that, I believe we will be better off.”

Goodman rounded out the discussion with the assertion that women need to speak up about their problems, there needs to be a change in the way we raise our children and women must mentor those under them in order to further women in the workforce.

The next panel, “Silence of the Girls,”l focused on high school journalism courses and student censorship in those environments. It was presented by Genelle Belmas of the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications at the University of Kansas.

Along with Peter Bobkowski, another professor at KU’s SJMC, she found that girls were almost twice as likely than boys to self-censor or be censored by school employees, who told them not to cover touchy subjects.

“Making topics off limits does not do them any service,” said Belmas. “This is when we weep.”

About the Author

Sam Smith
The Beacon - Editor-in-Chief