Five years ago, on my first day at a new job, the HR-head made this statement in her new-employee presentation: "We are proud to say that the male-to-female ratio in this organisation is closer to 50:50". I wondered why they'd mention this, but I realised soon enough. The magazine I'd joined was owned by a corporate house that also had established businesses in oil, steel, shipping and telecommunications. The healthy sex ratio in their fledgling media company was worth a Powerpoint slide because it was a statistic none of their other businesses could claim. Indeed, the magazine office still had only one toilet for women as opposed to three for men.
This is what most people outside of journalism don't realise about print media: Ours is not a world where women are the wives back home or the dismissible minority. There are far more women in newspaper and magazine offices than most other business and they cover more than lifestyle, arts and entertainment. They test-drive SUVs, report from Swine Flu wards, walk into abattoirs, interview the kin of murder accused, make rounds of police stations, count wickets and go on assignment to areas without sanitation, electricity or mobile-phone connectivity. Several editorial teams (including those at this newspaper) are run entirely by women. So, when it's time to dispatch the best man for the job, we do exactly that. And often, the best man happens to be a woman.
If India is unprepared for an almost-equal sex ratio in the corporate world, then changes in the media industry will come as a bigger shock. Journalism and media schools now have more women students than men. The MBA-equivalent diploma programme at Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad, has 50 per cent female students. A male-dominated BMM batch is unheard of and men often comprise as little as 15 per cent of a media studies class. At Mumbai University's Department of Communication and Journalism, the ratio of women to men students is now 60:40 and associate professor Sanjay Ranade believes the majority will grow larger still. "Parents actively discourage sons from taking up journalism because they see it as a soft-skills profession not befitting a boy," he says. He adds that the market, which now offers short-term contracts without gratuity, is another deterrent for anyone expected to support a family.
In addition, more families now open to working daughters are starting to see the media as a respectable trade. "Men have more established options to choose from, says Tarun Tripathi who lectures on media at MICA and some IIMs. "But for most women, this is the first generation in which career paths are being forged." It means that soon, there will be largely women producing your magazine, newspaper, TV show or web site. Largely women commissioning, writing, shooting, editing and walking into 'unsafe' places. India is going to have to get used to a woman doing what was mistakenly seen as a man's job. And we're all going to need more women's toilets.