The 19th* Co-Founder on The ‘Overdue’ Racial Reckoning in Newsrooms

Emily Ramshaw Founder of The 19th*

Emily Ramshaw on why the organization is launching at such a “critical” moment for women

Ignited by protests nationwide over racial inequality, American newsrooms are having a reckoning of their own. Protests, petitions, and internal complaints about inequalities have come into public view at major publications, including The New York Times and Bon Appétit.

Emily Ramshaw, co-founder and CEO of news organization The 19th*, believes the recent reckoning in newsrooms has been a long time coming. “This racial reckoning in newsrooms is so important — it’s so overdue,” Ramshaw told Wake-Up Call.

While many media companies make pledges to ramp up diversity and inclusivity efforts, Ramshaw said the nonpartisan newsroom has hired journalists of color from the ground up. She estimates that women of color compromise about 75 percent of her newsroom, adding that “those were also just the absolute best hires for those jobs.”

The 19th* is a nonprofit news organization, with a focus on gender, politics and policy. The name comes from the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — and the asterisk shows that there’s still work to be done. The organization is hoping to make a splash with its inaugural virtual summit, commemorating the suffrage centennial, which begins Monday, August 10. The event features high-profile speakers, including Stacey Abrams, Hillary Clinton, and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex.

Ramshaw emphasized that even before the protests against racism following the police killing of George Floyd in May, representation was at the center of their focus. Ramshaw launched the new brand, alongside fellow former Texas Tribune colleague Amanda Zamora.

“We were trying to build the nation’s first newsroom that was truly representative of the nation’s women,” Ramshaw said.

Ramshaw, who was previously Editor-in-Chief of The Texas Tribune, was first inspired to launch the venture four years ago during the 2016 presidential election. At the time, she was on maternity leave with her daughter — and watching the tense race between then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton play out.

“We were navigating all of these concerns around electability and likability that, to me, were just so obviously gendered and I thought to myself, we should have a news organization that is by women and for women,” she said.

While the idea quickly came to fruition, the launch of the new company during the middle of the pandemic was no easy task. Before officially launching this month, Rashaw said fundraising took a major hit and corporate underwriting stopped dead in its tracks due to the impact of the pandemic. Ultimately, she said that they felt like they had to take a “bigger risk,” emphasizing that women have had to bear the brunt of the coronavirus crisis.

“There was a moment in March and April where we basically stopped and said, ‘Are we going to be able to make this happen? Do we need to just stop, hold off, wait a year, see if we can ride this out?’ But the moment felt too critical for women.”

It’s true — the economic shock of the pandemic has hit women particularly hard. In April alone, women accounted for 55 percent of the job losses. And, though the U.S. added 1.8 million jobs in July, women are still joining the jobless rolls at a higher rate than men. Per the July jobs report, women are losing their jobs at 10.5 percent compared to 9.4 percent of men. There’s also the added responsibility of caregiving, which continues to largely fall on women. This has been especially tricky for working mothers who have to watch their kids while balancing their jobs.

Ramshaw believes one of the silver linings of launching in the midst of a pandemic has been being able to confront these issues head-on. The company offers six months of fully paid family leave for all new parents and four months of fully paid caregiver leave so employees can spend time with a dying loved one or a sick relative. “I think we’re proving the case that you can provide these kinds of benefits and flexibility and opportunities and still do the highest caliber of work,” she said.

More broadly, Ramshaw said the ongoing pandemic that has forced many to work from home has also led to a whole new level of empathy among both men and women. “All people are starting to get a view of what we’re up against in our home lives right now,” she said.

This originally appeared on Medium.