THE “glass ceiling” is an enduring metaphor that has been used over the years to highlight how invisible barriers can prevent certain groups from reaching the highest positions of leadership.

The new report prepared by the Equal Media and Culture Centre for Scotland at Engender (EMCC) has now provided valuable data to show just how much this invisible barrier extends across the Scottish media and culture sectors.

While the report rightly shows promising progress in some sectors (film and screen bodies), it highlights areas where there is a significant lack of diversity in leadership roles elsewhere, including newspapers, the trad/folk scene, gaming, sport, and musical directorships.

READ MORE: White men still dominate Scotland's top media and culture roles

Also crucially, the report tracks the intersection of gender with race to identify the more nuanced patterns of inequality for Black and minoritized people in these sectors.

Looking at who makes up leaders is important, substantively and symbolically. People in these roles make important decisions every day around who is included as part of their workforces or may feature in their creative outputs - both in front of and behind, their camera, so to speak.

Their lived experience could, in part, influence this.

They also act as figureheads for these organisations and sectors when they are seen more widely by the public.

We know representation matters. A large body of research, including that highlighted in the report, shows that a more diverse workforce and leadership increases diversity of output.

The National: Dr McKay said the report provided valuable dataDr McKay said the report provided valuable data (Image: Fiona McKay)

And having different people in leadership has significant role-model effects for young people, sending important signals about inclusivity and diversity in our society.

This is why the report is an important step in the process of addressing its lack in these sectors.

Already, we have seen how data-driven approaches to monitoring can show how gender bias is present at the macro-level across different organisations.

For example, gender pay gap reporting, implemented with legislation from 2017, has prompted public scrutiny and important conversations about the average (mean or median) pay gap between men and women of different organisations in Scotland and the wider UK, including the media and creative industries.

READ MORE: In graphs - see the 'bleak' gender divide in Scotland's media and culture top jobs

Another example of invaluable monitoring work is the Global Media Monitoring Project. This long-standing research project, which takes a global snapshot of the news every five years, looks at how much women make up the news as subjects and sources (the answer is not very much – just 25% for the latest report in 2020, only a slight shift from 17% in 1995).

And recent research on women of colour in Scottish media, led by Pass the Mic and Gender Equal Media Scotland, showed they were largely underrepresented as journalists, subjects and experts in the news.

Indeed, counting women’s representation is vital to show in real terms how much influence or power they may hold: how many (and perhaps more importantly, which) seats they have at the table.

Historically, because of male dominance and women’s “novelty” value in leadership positions, there can be the impression that women occupy more space when the overall figures reveal otherwise.

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Looking to politics as an example, having Margaret Thatcher (above) reach the top leadership position in the UK as prime minister led to premature claims that we had achieved gender equality.

But until December 2016, there had been fewer female MPs, ever, than there were men sitting in the House of Commons, at any one time - there were 455 women elected in total from 1918 to 2016, while 455 men were elected in 2016 alone.

This is followed through in research that shows that women in high-profile positions, such as Angela Merkel, can eclipse other female politicians, who are otherwise structurally marginalised.

This can obscure the bigger picture and be used to blunt, legitimate, arguments of campaigners for more diverse recruitment and progression policies.

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The report from the EMCC highlights that leadership is one of three “pillars of inequality” in media and culture, alongside workforce and creative output.

Representation matters, whether it is of diverse women in positions of power, in sufficient numbers across the workforce, and how – or how much – they appear in content, like in our newspapers, magazines, and TV screens.

These three areas are all linked and looking at the numbers in leadership also helps us understand how this plays out in the others.

We should also further explore the lived experience of those who experience the often embedded and exclusionary practices of workplace culture in these sectors.

The National: Holyrood chamber

Recently, I was involved in a “gender-sensitive audit ” of the Scottish Parliament, an encompassing look at how far the institution looked after the ‘needs and interests’ of both women and men in terms of its ‘structures, operations, methods and work’.

This holistic review analysed a wide range of data including the numerical representation of women across parties, committees and other groups, as well as their experiences of the overall attitudes and culture, including talking to MSPs themselves.

This is something the media and culture sectors could, and should, seriously consider. As the EMCC recommends, introducing self-monitoring audits would make more data publicly available to show how far each organisation is going towards creating a more diverse sector.

It also urges for more sector-specific research to seek guidance from those with lived experience to help identify key barriers to reaching these leadership positions – so we don’t need to come back to those metaphors anymore.

Dr Fiona McKay is a lecturer in Journalism, Media and Communication at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow