Is a career in broadcast media worth delaying motherhood?

By Mable Twegumye Zake

The debate about whether a career in television is worth postponing motherhood resonates not only in Uganda but across the globe.

In a world where children should proudly declare “my mom works on TV,” the reality is often different. The idea that “women have a problem because they get pregnant when they are doing well” is often heard in professional settings, reflecting the deep-rooted challenges women face in balancing their careers and motherhood.

As a media practitioner and journalism lecturer, I’ve witnessed first-hand the challenges faced by female broadcast journalists in balancing their careers and professional lives. The demanding nature of the television industry, with its long hours and unpredictable schedules, often conflicts with the responsibilities of motherhood. This is further exacerbated by the prevalence of gender stereotypes and biases within the industry, which often cast women as being less dedicated or capable than their male counterparts.

In Uganda, female TV reporters and news anchors typically fall within the age range of 23 to 40, a pivotal time when they are at the peak of their careers and also considering starting families. This creates creating a complex dilemma for many ambitious female journalists.

Broadcast media trains its professionals rigorously in journalistic ethics and professional standards but fails to prepare female journalists for the daunting choice between family and career. Even in countries with better job protection for pregnant women, renowned journalists acknowledge the hardships faced by female colleagues in television broadcasting. In Uganda, where whims of media owners dictate hiring and firing, the challenges are exacerbated.

Unspoken discrimination and the burden of silence

Television viewers generally exhibit acceptance towards pregnant reporters, anchors, and show hosts. However, within the industry, there persist underlying sentiments among some media managers that pregnant women might not be as visually appealing or as productive as their non-pregnant counterparts. These notions often create barriers and biases against expectant broadcasters, impacting their opportunities and treatment within the field.

Throughout my 15-year career in broadcasting, I cannot recall instances where my pregnancy hindered my strong verbal skills, engaging presentations, or ability to conduct interviews and extensive field assignments. I vividly remember delivering one of my last news bulletins in 2012, just a week before giving birth to my son. Despite my efforts and resilience, I cannot deny the unspoken truths within TV stations that often side-line pregnant female broadcasters once their pregnancies become visible.

Female TV journalists often face the harsh reality of body-shaming comments during and after pregnancy, as they struggle to shed post-partum weight or embrace their new bodies while adhering to unrealistic beauty standards. These pressures can be immense, leading some women to delay their decision to have children out of fear of being ostracised or marginalised in the industry.

I have witnessed instances where the on-screen careers of female journalists are cut short during maternity leave or upon their return. This unspoken discrimination is particularly prevalent in television compared to other media branches.

Many pregnant female journalists face the daunting task of concealing their pregnancies until the second trimester, grappling with wardrobe decisions to maintain their on-screen image amidst constant worries about their professional future. The unspoken question, “Will they accept me on set when they find out or when it starts showing?” hangs heavy in the air.

Envisioning a better tomorrow

The challenges faced by female broadcasters are not insurmountable. It is commendable that some TV stations respect and support expectant mothers, allowing them to continue their on-screen presence. However, more should be done.

Media owners and managers can take steps to create a more supporting and inclusive environment for them. This includes providing paid maternity leave, flexible work arrangements and childcare support. It is so important to create a culture where women feel comfortable about speaking up about the challenges they face in balancing their careers and professional lives.

By fostering a culture of open dialogue and prioritising the well-being of their employees, media houses can create a more equitable and enriching work environment for all, regardless of their personal circumstances.

If we do this, perhaps one day there will no longer be barriers that hinder young women from pursuing a successful career in TV journalism. We will create a world where women feel empowered to balance their professional goals with their personal lives, free from discrimination and judgment.

The writer is a Media Practitioner and Assistant Lecturer at Islamic University In Uganda (IUIU) and Victoria University.

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