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Mariana Santos

A project to get more women in media top positions

Women’s presence in journalism is increasing, but the gender breakdown of top editors in the largest news outlets worldwide remains rather disappointing also in 2022, according to the latest analysis by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Female media professionals still have a long way to cover for greater gender equality in top editorial positions, according to the research.

The media industry has been talking a lot, but it seems hard to give up that space for diversities to lead, according to Mariana Santos, a Portuguese visual storyteller who is leading one of the efforts to bring change.

Starting in 2013 from Latin America, where the challenges were undoubtedly larger compared to the U.S. or Europe, she founded Chicas Poderosas (Powerful Women), a nonprofit organization aimed to address the gender gap in newsrooms. As Chicas are set to celebrate their 10th anniversary, a confident Santos, thanks to the progress steps made, is planning to bridge Latin America with Europe to multiply the impact, she told Moonshot.News.


Women represent only 21% of the 179 top editors across 240 major online and offline news outlets in 12 different markets across five continents, although on average 40% of journalists in these markets are women, according to the Reuters Institute survey which was carried out in February this year. 

“In 11 out of 12 markets, the majority of top editors are men, including in countries where women outnumber men among working journalists. No market in the sample has a majority of women top editors this year”, the report says.

The percentage of women in top editorial positions varies from 7% in Brazil to 50% in the US in 2022. It was respectively 12% and 47% percent a year ago. Among other markets included in the sample of the research, in Mexico the percentage was 6% in 2021 rising to 11% this year, in Japan it was 0% percent a year ago and 9% this year.

In Europe the percentage of female top editors was 38% in the UK (up from 27%), 20% in Spain (up from 8%), 18% in Finland (down from 27%), 17% in Germany (down from 19%).

In Kenya and South Africa the trend was also downwards, 13% (from 27%) and 40% (from 60%) respectively.

“Despite the increasing industry focus on lack of diversity in the news media, we find no clear overall trend towards greater gender equality in top editorial positions over the past year”, the report concludes.


“Having many women in your team does not mean gender balance. Balance will come when the diversities are represented in the leadership seats… There has to be structural change and the leadership has to be shared. When media, and corporations, actually share the leadership we will have a fairer and more representative world”, Santos said.

The world is changing and the changes should be reflected also in newsrooms. Chicas Poderosas trains, connects, and works with communities of journalists and communicators across Latin America to empower women to reach or create leadership roles in the media, strengthen the voices of the underrepresented to break mental blockages and glass ceilings, she explained.

In Latin America, where the organization is mainly operating, women only represent 24% of newsroom employees although the trend in recent years is positive, Santos noted.  Nonetheless, indigenous people represent only 3% of newsroom employees and trans and non-binary people do not reach even 1%. 

Across the world, 100 of the main media outlets have only 18% of their top editors who are non-white. Europe’s newsrooms are still predominantly white and middle-class, though societies are changing rapidly, Santos said.

“Consequently, there is editorial agenda with a limited perspective, excluding diversities issues from public debate and perpetuating inequalities and increasing social gaps, polarization, and stereotypes. Since the media is still an important pillar for democracy, not representing these voices generates lack of understanding, lack of representation in policies, fostering misinformation, marginalizing communities, and polarization in society”, she stressed.

Santos’ vision is that media can open up leadership decision roles in their structures for both women and other underrepresented voices such as Afro descendants, migrants, people from the LGBTQA+ communities, indigenous, people with incapacities. 


“We ignite change by creating a safe network of support, training and collaboration for journalists and communicators who did not have the chance to lead yet. We give them training in leadership, especially shared leadership, in journalism skills and in collaborative practices, so they can see their projects happen and eventually change their realities”, Santos said. 

Chicas has a presence in 16 countries, where journalists self-organize to produce investigations. More than 10,000 people have been trained. The results are tangible. 

A characteristic example is the investigation about the sexual and reproductive rights for women and non-binary people, during Covid times by the Argentinian chapter. 

“It contributed to the discussion on the law for a secure, free, and legal abortion rights in Argentina. It’s about changing the narrative by giving it gender, race and other diverse perspectives that makes the stories more real”, she explained.  


Santos’ motto is ‘just do it and don’t trust these mental blockages that people put on us’. She firstly did it as a kid in Algavre, southern Portugal, when everyone was telling her that there were no national champions of swimming from the underdeveloped south, they were always from the north. She became a national champion at 13.

She grew up in a very conservative family where they said women cannot do lots of things that men can and this was another mental block. Having her mother as role model saying she could do anything; she broke more mental blockages.

When she joined The Guardian newspaper in London, she found herself struggling as a member of a minority. In a team of 200+ developers she was one of 3 women working in that department.

“That’s when I decided to found Chicas Poderosas, a safe network and space for women to develop as media leaders, having the ability to take decisions in the way news are made. That’s when I decided we need to do something about it, otherwise this is going to be a men’s world. Men editing, men leading everything, and women not getting the opportunity to contribute”, she said.

“I think leadership is about being very conscious of your values and fighting for them. I really believe women should and can be leaders. The same with the LGBTQA+, with Afro descendent people, we can all be leaders, if we are given the opportunity and the training and the setting, the safe space, the supportive network”, she added.


For Santos it’s very hard to break glass ceilings on both sides of the Atlantic. In Latin America, she sees women, as well as LGBTQA+ and Afro descendent people, starting their own independent initiatives, where they are the leaders of their own projects. “Since women are not able to break the glass ceilings, because media mainstream is not ready to offer these spaces of leadership, they just go and create their own”, she said. 

In her view, in Latin America today things are moving faster, because women in this part of the world faced harder social issues than in Europe. As challenges increase in Europe, in Poland for example, where women are losing their rights, Santos said, she is thinking about connecting Latin America with Europe and “have these Latinas who have been fighting for their rights for a long, long time to come and help the Europeans, give them a hand.”

“In Europe, it feels like we are still comfortable, because things are not as bad as in Latin America. But I really believe we need to wake up and start defending our own rights. Otherwise, we might go down to the funnel. So, I really believe that one day we could bring some Latin American power to Europe and start this cross- pollination,” she said. 





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