XX-clusion: A Master's Thesis on the Media's Portrayal of Women in Top Management

Jacqueline Netterstrøm Juntermanns, Mette Riis Jensen & Tina Chanruk Larsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Gender equality? A phrase, a term, an ideology that has been the root of debate for decades, and still is today. So, the question prevails - why do we still discuss the issue of gender inequality? Because it is still a well-documented problem. In a country such as Denmark that is internationally known for being equal, progressive, happy and innovative, it is striking that we rank as no. 95 in the world when it comes to gender equality within legislators, senior officials and managers, according to the World Economic Forum (2018). However, why is this the case? How is the issue being presented and debated in the Danish media? Those are some of the questions that this thesis seeks to investigate. Based on a media content analysis of 113 articles published in the Danish media in the period of February 2018 - February 2019, we wish to first off, investigate how the Danish media portray the issue of the underrepresentation of women in top management positions in Denmark. Secondly, based on two focus groups with women, who seek to advance in management, we wish to look into which effect the media portrayal has on women. Lastly, based on our findings, we seek to offer strategic recommendations to the Danish media, in the hopes of steering the issue towards positive changes that foster actual solutions. Aiding our analysis and discussion, is Robert Entman’s (1989; 1993; 2007) framing theory, in particular his view on framing functions. In connection to this, we will also be drawing on Lene Aarøe’s (2011) theory on frame strength as well as Valkenburg & Peter’s (2013) Differential Susceptibility to Media Effects Model, to nuance the debate and look at other factors than framing, in relation to the power of media influence. In addition, we will also be using McComb’s (1977; 1997; 2014) theory on agenda-setting supplemented by Dearing & Rogers’ (1996) theory on the three levels of agenda-setting, to better understand the power of media. As an additional theory in understanding the media’s role in society and how its power and influence works, we will also be using Elisabeth Noelle-Neuman’s (Scheufele, 2008) Spiral of Silence Theory as part of our analysis and discussion. To analyse and later discuss the media reception we will be using Kim Schrøder’s (2003) Multidimensional model on media reception in order to investigate how individuals perceive media texts. Lastly, we will also be drawing on Norman Fairclough (1992) and his critical discourse theory; not with the intention of conducting an extensive discourse analysis, but instead to look at how discourses in society work and appear, and thus how this impacts individuals and society. In conclusion, the Danish media has portrayed the issue based on two main arguments; 1) the reason why there are less women in management can be explained biologically and 2) there is no need to discuss gender policies or quotas because we should be judged based on our skills and not our gender. Accordingly, the media frames the issue to incorporate arguments of biology, talent, and diversity benefit (nytte). In fact, we discovered that many but not all the same arguments surfaced in the focus groups. Not surprisingly, biology was a prominent issue here, but culture and working conditions seemed to occupy the participants of the focus groups much more. In short, we do see evidence of media influence and its agenda-setting ability. However, it is not as black and white as one would think. This is due to the fact that predisposed factors such as gender, personality and temper all play a role in how an individual perceives a media message. Moreover, there appears to be a gap between how gender equal we think we are, and how equal we actually are in Denmark. Hence, we found common sense ideologies, in large due to unconscious bias, that are embedded in society and reproduce the same discourses which changes nothing. Furthermore, the media tends to portray the issue as single episodic events and therefore fails to broaden the issue and present it in more detail. Consequently, we recommend that the media 1) focuses on educating the public on the effects of unconscious bias and 2) starts incorporating more thematic frames, to broaden the issue and allow for the complexity of the issue to manifest in society, thus forging change over time.

EducationsMSc in Business Administration and Organizational Communication, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages238