Last year, the Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees reported a persistent wage gap between men and women employed by Dow Jones, The Journal’s parent company. The report found that full-time female employees make on average less than 85 percent of what their male counterparts earn, even when accounting for differences in age and location. And there is a distinct and persistent gap between pay for men and for women, even when they hold the same job title and have worked the same amount of time. Dow Jones female employees in New York — hardly a cheap place to live — made $10,000 less than their male counterparts, and $13,000 less in Washington. Multiply that difference over the span of a career and that’s the home you can never buy, or several children’s college educations.
None of this is, of course, unique to media: The gender pay gap is an unfortunate feature of many industries, from banking to Hollywood to even female-dominated industries, such as cleaning and teaching. But this particular pay gap affects our crucial understanding of China’s rise, one of the biggest news stories of our time.
Foreign correspondents of Carrie Gracie’s caliber, who are fluent in the language and have several decades of experience, are rare. Spanning 10 years, her stories on a rural farming community’s transformation into a huge city is one of the definitive narratives of China’s urbanization process. Foreign correspondents of her caliber who are women, who have spent their careers underpaid and faced challenges their male peers never had to, are rarer still. While there’s no accurate data comparing the numbers of male and female foreign correspondents, it’s quite likely that the figures mirror or surpass those of general newsrooms, which are two-thirds male. Such imbalances are certainly reflected in journalism prizes, as Pulitzers for international reporting and even the Martha Gellhorn Prize — named for a female correspondent — go overwhelmingly to men.
Our understanding of China would be hugely diminished without the contribution of many outstanding female correspondents. There was The New Yorker’s China correspondent Emily Hahn, who wrote the first authoritative biography of the Soong sisters and had met both Mao and Zhou Enlai. (She frequently complained in letters home of being underpaid and financially strapped.) Or Time magazine’s Annalee Jacoby, who had to work around the War Department’s rules forbidding female correspondents. Rather patronizingly called the “girl reporter of this war” during World War II, she co-wrote the best seller “Thunder Out of China,” chronicling the Chiang Kai-shek era. Ms. Jacoby would later give up her foreign correspondent career for marriage and motherhood.
The case for equal pay is the case for better reporting. Pay women equally to men and more women will stay in the business; more women lessens the preponderance of male viewpoints and allows a clearer presentation of how things are. Certainly female reporters who covered the Vietnam War have made the case that their gender frequently helped them look beyond a near-fetishistic coverage of guns and bombs to the real costs of war.
At least women like Ms. Hahn, Ms. Jacoby and Ms. Gracie had careers. As with the #MeToo harassment revelations, gender pay discrimination is most pernicious in how it stifles the could-have-beens. For every Carrie Gracie, there are countless others who didn’t go as far as they could have. Their lost contributions are incalculable.