The Wall Street Journal, Economist and Financial Times all now have female editors – what does it mean for business?
February 1 was a date to celebrate for women in business everywhere. It happened to be the day that water group Severn Trent became the first large UK quoted company to be led by an all-female team by appointing Helen Miles as chief financial officer. That’s certainly worthy of celebration – but not what I had in mind.
Instead, I was thinking of Emma Tucker starting work as editor of the Wall Street Journal. It means that for the first time ever, women are in charge of what I believe to be the three most influential organs of financial commentary: the Economist, Financial Times (FT) and the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
When I commented on this on Twitter, it was the first time that one of my posts has gone viral. People pointed out many more women in positions of editorial command – Alessandra Galloni is editor in chief of Reuters, Sally Buzbee is executive editor of the Washington Post, Deborah Turness is CEO of BBC News and Current Affairs, Julie Pace is executive editor of Associated Press.
I could carry on – Victoria Newton edits the Sun, Alison Phillips edits the Daily Mirror, and indeed Jo Adetunji edits The Conversation UK. Tucker herself arrives at the WSJ after being in charge of the UK’s Sunday Times. Perhaps we should speak about female dominance rather than representation.
The effect on business
All of that is fantastic progress, and more likely to inspire other female journalists to want to be editors – after all, it’s hard to be what you can’t see. The Economist/FT/WSJ trio, though, is the most critical for women in business. Full disclosure: I wrote a weekly column for the FT for 17 years under (three) male editors, before giving up when I became a full-time academic. My final editor, Lionel Barber, was fully supportive of women’s careers – he did, after all, help to appoint Roula Khalaf as editor in January 2020 when he left.
Khalaf spoke in an interview in 2021 about taking the paper in a more female-friendly direction, striving towards a 50-50 male-female management split, as well as increasing the proportion of female columnists and subscribers. I took a look at the prestigious Lunch with the FT profile that appears each weekend, for instance, which featured 101 men to 56 women in the three years before Khalaf took over, while the divide has been 93:64 in the three years since.
Meanwhile at the Economist, where Zanny Minton Beddoes took over in 2015, the keywords “women in leadership” yielded 30 articles in the eight years before her appointment. In the eight years since, there have been 53.
More women at the top increases the likelihood of women rising through the ranks. Are these appointments more important in this respect than the increased number of women on boards? I think so. I was one of the small group of women who, in 2010, under the leadership of the financier Baroness Helena Morrissey, founded the 30% Club, which successfully campaigned to raise the proportion of women on boards.