Women in Media: Top Leaders, Resources, and More

The media relies on the passion and tenacity of its female leaders, like these 5 powerful women.

women holding a TV camera

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Taylor Tobin
Taylor Tobin1.84k

In the year 2019, “media” covers a broad spectrum of platforms, companies, and individual influencers. From viral content to streaming video to traditional TV broadcasts to digital and print journalism, media affects our society on a regular and inescapable basis, and the leaders of this industry have considerable power over the way we as readers and viewers experience news, art, and culture. 

While the #MeToo movement shed a harsh and much-needed light on the abuses perpetrated by male media moguls, we’re happy to report that the industry also features multiple high-powered female-identifying leaders, all working tirelessly to grow their brands, bolster their market capital, and make their messages heard to audiences worldwide. We’ve rounded up 5 powerful female media tycoons, all of whom are making major moves to influence informational and artistic dialogues around the world. 

Top Women in Media

In no particular order:

1. Oprah Winfrey

A regular fixture on Forbes’ Most Powerful Women lists, media impresario (and potential 2020 candidate?) Oprah Winfrey continues her reign as an undisputed queen of TV, publishing, and film. After shuttering her landmark program “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2011, Winfrey swiveled her focus onto her OWN TV network and O, The Oprah Magazine. Both properties became significant successes among Winfrey’s fanbase and allowed her to continue the autonomous career she launched when producing “The Oprah Winfrey Show” through her own production company. In addition to her network and magazine, Oprah takes time to guest star in films like “A Wrinkle In Time,” to actively involve herself in politics (estimates indicate that she generated upwards of 1 million votes for Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries), and to lend her voice and image to product-promotion deals (like her massively-lucrative Weight Watchers endorsement and investment). According to Time, Oprah’s net worth hovers near $3 billion, making her one of the wealthiest self-made women in the United States. 

2. Anna Wintour

Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour boasts a reach extending far beyond fashion’s inner circles. After a long career in fashion journalism in her native United Kingdom, Wintour took the reins at Vogue in 1988 and has since gained legendary status as a tastemaker with an infallible eye for fashion trends and up-and-coming designers and models. In 2013, she became the artistic and editorial director of Condé Nast, giving her a say in the content appearing in all publications under the Condé Nast umbrella. Her trailblazing career and sustained influence landed her atop Forbes’ Most Powerful Women in Media list in 2017 and also nabbed her fictional immortality as the inspiration for “The Devil Wears Prada”’s iconic Miranda Priestly, played in the film to Oscar-nominated effect by Meryl Streep. 

3. Shari Redstone

The daughter of broadcasting magnate Sumner Redstone, CBS and Viacom vice-chairwoman Shari Redstone began her media and business careers under high expectations based on her family’s long track record of success in the field. After rising to the highest leadership position at CBS parent company National Amusements, Redstone played an instrumental role in the #MeToo-related ousting of CBS CEO Les Moonves. Because Moonves represented a key oppositional voice to Redstone’s big-picture plans for CBS, his departure now clears the way for her to advance her desired merger of CBS and Viacom, a massive move that, if successful, will impact the media industry for decades to come. 

4. Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes may have started her media trajectory as an unemployed Dartmouth graduate seeking a job as a screenwriter, but she’s since ascended to unprecedented heights as one of Hollywood’s most powerful (and highly-paid) showrunners and the head of her own successful production company. Rhimes’ Shondaland company oversees the production of hit series like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How To Get Away With Murder,” and she recently inked a multi-year development deal with Netflix, giving the streaming platform exclusive rights to future Shondaland series. With a net worth of $135 million, Rhimes holds the position of the wealthiest female showrunner in the United States. 

5. Susan Wojcicki

As streaming video becomes an increasingly significant facet of the media industry, platforms dedicated to that medium grow in prominence, with viewerships and user numbers that regularly eclipse those of traditional TV networks. One prime example can be found in YouTube, the user-video-sharing company with approximately 2 billion monthly users and a valuation of $90 billion. At the helm of this crucial media company is Susan Wojcicki, a former Google employee who encouraged Google’s parent company Alphabet to acquire YouTube and who has used her leadership role at the site to morph the platform from a mere sharing device to a TV network in its own right, with a line-up that includes broadcasts from ABC, CBS, NBC, and other prominent networks. 

History of Women in Media

While women have played roles in media for centuries, the first major publication geared toward a female readership launched in 1693 with the London-based The Ladies’ Mercury. Although The Ladies’ Mercury ran an advice column addressing questions sent by both men and women, the editors answering the questions all identified as male, meaning that women would need to wait over a century for genuine female representation in media.

In 1825, writer Anne Newport Royall became the first woman to interview a U.S. president (John Quincy Adams) for publication. America saw its first female foreign war correspondent in 1848, thanks to the work of Margaret Fuller, who also penned the seminal feminist text “Woman in the Nineteenth Century.” In 1948, Katharine Graham became the first female publisher of a major national newspaper, taking the helm of her family’s journalistic landmark, The Washington Post.

 While women would continue to grow their presence in the media throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the 1960s proved a critical decade for female representation; Vogue hired its first female editor, Diana Vreeland, in 1963, and in 1965, Cosmopolitan became the first major magazine geared toward women without the overarching theme of homemaking and “housewifery,” thanks to the work of its female editor-in-chief, Helen Gurley Brown. 

In 1977, USA Network founder Kay Koplovitz became the first woman to lead a major television station. The ‘80s and ‘90s saw the rise of important media figures like Oprah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer, and Barbara Walters, and the 2000s and 2010s witnessed (and continue to witness) women continuously busting through the glass ceiling to make themselves both seen and heard in the media landscape.

Resources and Groups for Women in Media

Women hoping to launch careers in media have access to numerous networking groups, seminars, and streaming programs offering guidance and advice on entering this famously-volatile field. A couple of excellent examples:

  • Women’s Media Center 

In 2005, feminist icon Gloria Steinem, film and TV star Jane Fonda, and author and activist Robin Morgan founded the Women’s Media Center, a group designed to increase the visibility, representation, and leadership of women in all aspects of media. Since then, WMC has published several books and articles addressing the inequality that persists in the industry, has launched content platforms and radio programs like WMC Features and Women’s Media Center Live with Robin Morgan producing shows and broadcasts offering advice to women seeking to further their media careers, and has created SheSource, a database of expert sources from various fields who are willing and ready to serve as story sources for WMC journalists.
  • Women In Media

Another organization aimed at creating networking possibilities and career-building events for women in this field, Women In Media provides numerous perks with membership, like mentorship match-ups, job listings, networking events, and discounted passes to film festivals and panels.

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