Gender diversity on TV, radio and print news, on its own, isn’t new or newsworthy. In Milwaukee, you can go back decades and see female television anchors and reporters on the airwaves.
But at the top, it’s been largely a man’s world.
Thankfully, that’s changing. Two of the four Milwaukee TV stations now have women at the helm. Talk radio stations, which have been male-dominated, feature more female voices. And OnMilwaukee, a company that is two-thirds female staffed, has a woman in the role of Chief Operating Officer (COO).
Indeed, more work needs to be done, but as we close out International Women's Month, it’s time to shine a spotlight on how Milwaukee’s newsrooms are knocking on the glass ceiling.
Locally, the pioneer on female media leadership, is Jan Wade, the General Manager at WISN-12.
Wade arrived at Channel 12 as GM in 2007, and before that, she was in charge of the ABC affiliate in Knoxville for 13 years. She was the first female GM in both those markets.
“When I first got into business, you didn't see women in leadership roles at all in television stations,” says Wade. “I remember my first newsroom I worked in, there was a female assignment manager, but the news director, the general manager, the assistant news director, the sales manager, they were all men. I didn't really think about it a lot, but as I started working behind the scenes in television stations and learning about all the different jobs there were to do, there were women who were very qualified and they just didn't have that opportunity yet.”
Wade says being a woman in this industry gives her a different perspective.
“I think that women leaders tend to be inclusive,” she says. “I don't look at myself as being the dictatorial type. I want other people's opinion. I want them to weigh in. I want them to give me their thoughts and ideas. I work that way with my management team. I hire them because they're the expert in their area. And I respect what they say about their area and what they want to do in their area.”
Dana Bishop is the 11 a.m. news producer at WISN-12. Prior to this position, she worked at several different stations across the country. One of the reasons she chose to work for WISN was because she saw women in leadership positions.
“I've noticed that women usually outnumber men in the entry-level positions, but that slowly changes as you go up the ladder, with most upper level management positions being predominantly male. Luckily, at WISN, that isn't the case,” says Bishop.
Across town, CBS-58 recently brought in Anne Brown as its new general manager, and Brown hired Jessie Garcia as the station’s news manager.
Brown says that coming up in TV news, she never had a female manager.
“Women come into my office and say, ‘How did you do this? What did you do?’ I don't know that (I did anything) that was gender specific. You're given an opportunity to work really hard, just keep at it and just keep going. And fortunately, I was given opportunities by my white male managers.”
In her new role as news director, Garcia says she was already used to being challenged, as she already had long ago cut her teeth in TV as Wisconsin’s first female sports anchor.
Says Garcia, “In that portion of my career, there were a few things, nothing that I look at as like a humongous hurdle, but once, a man called one night after I got off the air and said, ‘I'm never going to watch that station again, because you are chick and chicks don't know anything about sports.’ Moments like that served to remind me that not everybody is on board and I had to work doubly hard that I knew sports.”
After working for markets in Kansas and Ohio, Rachael Glaszcz accepted the job of executive producer for WTMJ-TV. During the course of her news career, she has seen more and more women in management roles.
Glaszcz says she appreciates this because to present unbiased, relevant, interesting news both genders voices are necessary.
“Maybe I'm lucky, but everywhere I've worked I've had a good mix of men and women from the associate producer ranks all the way up to general manager. And I really enjoy that mix. Both genders bring different viewpoints and experiences to the table, and it makes for lively conversations where we truly try to incorporate all ways of thinking into our story selection and storytelling,” says Glaszcz.
Emily Konopka is the producer of FOX6’s “Real Milwaukee.” She was promoted to this role after serving for six years as the show’s associate producer. She took the helm at an ambitious time and says it has been a rewarding experience.
“Relaunching the show after an 18-month hiatus, in a new time slot, not to mention with pandemic restrictions, has been challenging at times,” says Konopka. “It has also taught me so much. I look forward to growing more in my role as producer, and rediscovering what it's like to be fully ‘back to normal.’”
“I think women still have a long way to go in media, but feel hopeful we have made large strides toward better representation and now have a larger share of company voice,” says Carolynn Buser, who became OnMilwaukee’s COO in 2021.
Konopka says women have played a large role in her learning process and career growth.
“I truly am so grateful to be surrounded by such amazing and talented women at FOX6,” says Konopka. “We build each other up and I wouldn't be the same person I am today without their support and guidance.”
Steve Wexler, Vice President and Market Manager for WTMJ and ESPN Milwaukee, says his stations have and will continue to promote women into top roles and that someday women in media – particularly female sportscasters – will be a given, not an issue in need of improvement.
“I think we're at a point where we want amazing personalities – like the incredible Jen Lada – and are less shocked when a woman is doing the talking,” says Wexler. “Let’s hope we see even more of this down the road.”
Wade says she doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about herself as a role model, but she’s aware and pleased that young women view her that way.
“Just by virtue of what I do and the positions that I hold and the boards I sit on, I am around a lot of young people. And, I think it's important that we are role models. I think it's important that people of color are role models. I think it's important that women and men that we all are, but yes, I think, I think because of the path I've taken and because I've had the wonderful opportunity to lead great stations, I think it's really wonderful when I hear a young person come tell me that.”
Says Garcia, “I just was following my own dreams. I had a dream of being a sportscaster. I had a dream of being a news director. And in following those dreams, if I pave a trail for others, and if I can inspire people, that would mean the world to me to be able to offer that to others.”
Konopka credits her many female role models for much of her career opportunities and growth.
“I have been fortunate to have so many female role models to look up to in my career, from my college journalism professor Laura Trendle-Polus to our Real Milwaukee executive producer Sara Smith,” she says.
“But simply put, there are things female journalists deal with that our male counterparts do not, especially when it comes to on-air talent. However, it gives me hope to see women in media sticking up for themselves, defying double standards, continuing to break down barriers, all while doing important work.”