In folklore, the media have long been depicted as being led by crusty older males like Lou Grant – or Rupert Murdoch in the real world. Lois Lane may be the star reporter, not Clark Kent, but ultimately she still reports to editor Perry White.

But in this country, women are increasingly taking top roles in media industry management.

That number is better than in other sectors, says Joan Withers, one of New Zealand's most successful businesswomen, who made her name in media.

Withers was Fairfax NZ chief executive and chair of TVNZ, and believes NZ media have been receptive to female leaders.


In 1989 Withers was an advertising saleswoman for community newspapers, then rose to become chief executive of The Radio Network, the former Radio NZ commercial network which is now part of NZME.

Withers eventually became chair of Fairfax NZ, and was on the board of its Australian parent company. Last year she stepped down as chair of TVNZ and was replaced by Dame Therese Walsh.

Withers is also vice chair of Global Women, a group that promotes women in business.

She says media are "good at recognising women and a great place for women to reach their full potential".

Women have been able to do well in media on merit, she says, rather than being appointed to roles based on their length of tenure.

Of course, having women in top roles does not automatically resolve the male-female pay gap.

In the UK, for example, commercial TV behemoth ITV and Channel 4 both handed the reins to women — Carolyn McCall and Alex Mahon, respectively.

An ITV report on Tuesday revealed a 16.4 per cent male-female pay gap, based on average pay, and a 49.4 per cent gap in bonuses. At Channel 4, men earn 28.6 per cent more than women, on average, and receive 47.6 per cent more in bonuses.


The equal pay issue in this country's media has not been assessed in the same way.

But whatever the numbers, Withers believes women have been able to get ahead. "You go back to the days of Beverley Wakem as chief executive at RNZ."

Here are some of the other women who have risen to the media's upper ranks in more recent times.

Sussan Turner was chief executive of MediaWorks Radio and then Mediaworks as a whole, and is now on the board of TVNZ.

Sinead Boucher, formerly head of digital and head of editorial at Fairfax NZ, is now chief executive of Stuff, the New Zealand arm of Fairfax.

Boucher says that four out of seven of her executive team are women. A majority of journalism graduates at AUT are women, and the AUT advertising school has a majority of women students.

Boucher confirms women are making up a bigger share of newsrooms, but isn't sure why.

As head of business at NZME, Fran O'Sullivan has long been among New Zealand's highest profile journalists, providing expert commentary on politics, trade and business.

When Jane Hastings was drafted in as chief executive to rebrand APN News and Media as NZME, the company was dominated by women in top management roles. This has continued under Hastings' successor Michael Boggs, with Laura Maxwell (chief digital officer), Sarah Judkins (chief strategy officer) and Allison Whitney (legal counsel) on the NZME executive.

The political editors for the five biggest mainstream media organisation are women. Tova O'Brien is replacing Paddy Gower at Newshub and Jessica Mutch has replaced Corin Dann at TVNZ. They join Tracy Watkins at Stuff, Audrey Young at the Herald and RNZ's Jane Patterson.

Carol Hirschfeld has a key role in top level management as head of multi-media at RNZ.
Carol Hirschfeld has a key role in top level management as head of multi-media at RNZ.

Carol Hirschfeld has a key role in top level management as head of multi-media at RNZ. She has dropped her role as head of news, but will still oversee Morning Report and Checkpoint.

Miriyana Alexander is the editor of the successful Weekend Herald and Herald on Sunday titles.

Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon and Kim Hill on Saturday Morning at RNZ continue to take a high profile in public debate.

The Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media is Clare Curran, who is planning big upheavals in broadcasting. Before her, the portfolio was held by Amy Adams.

Stuff's national business editor Ellen Read has resigned to become chief press secretary to Finance Minister Grant Robertson.

Last year, Hema Patel replaced Kym Niblock as general manager of the Lightbox streaming business owned by Spark.

The former head of Omnicom Group's OMD, Kath Watson, and the head of Spark PHD, Louise Bond, have long been industry leaders in the media buying sector.

Media buying has become a bigger part of the media equation. Advertising commentator Martin Gillman says the traditionally female dominated buying arm of advertising has become more influential.