Jennifer Siebens was a broadcast journalist her whole life. She was bureau chief in Paris, Los Angeles, and London and Vice President in charge of CBS News coverage in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. She remembers the beginning of her career and especially having to fight, being a woman, to have the same advantages as men.
Siebens was dying to be sent abroad, she wanted to go cover events and people overseas, she wanted to “get out the door.” However, her leadership did not want to send her anywhere, they would only send men.
“I couldn’t get out the door from New York to go overseas because they weren’t sending women. And I would [tell the executives] ‘I am not your daughter, let it go. Do you want my mother to sign a waiver saying that if I get killed she doesn’t care? I mean what is it going to take to get out of the goddamn door?'” Siebens recalls saying.
Finally, in 1980, four American nuns were killed in El Salvador and her company wanted to send her over there. She was finally sent abroad! But Siebens was not as thrilled as she wished she would have been.
“I was kind of scared because they were butchering women,” Siebens says.
But after insisting all these years to be sent overseas, she could not decline the mission, even though she did not speak Spanish. Her network got her a translator and she flew to El Salvador.
This episode was only anecdotal, but it illustrates one of the levels in which women are not on an equal footing with men, both in terms of opportunity as well as in terms of risk and danger assessment. If only that was all… Siebens also realized, during a casual conversation with a co-worker, that she was making way less money than he was.
“I threatened to sue … because I was earning $30,000 less a year than a guy I had been in class with at Columbia who had also gone into local news, done his time, as I had… 30K, ladies, more than me!” Siebens exclaimed.
She recalls rocketing up to her executives and vehemently complaining about how abnormal that was. She fully intended to sue her company if they were not to fix it very quickly. She got it done in 24 hours. Moral of the story?
“Ladies! They always tell you people who work in large companies don’t talk about salary … that is bullshit. You totally. You can ask for a raise, there are elegant ways to do it … And talk to people,” Siebens says.
She also mentions websites like Glassdoor and others which can help get situated in terms of salary and compensation.
Finally, being a woman journalist can be challenging in the long term for those who want to have a family. Siebens was a divorced single mom of two girls, with a father not in the picture anymore. Thankfully, she explains having good friends who could watch over her daughters, and she also had the financial means to have her children taken care of when she needed to go away. However, she knows this is not the case for every woman in the industry.
“The sanity of a working mom is directly tied to the quality of childcare. Which is why it’s so important that the United States gets its Childcare Act together … You cannot be leaving your kid, or if you have to, the stress of holding down a job, earning a paycheck, supporting a family but worrying all the time about the safety of your kids… it’s a horrible thing. I was spared a lot of that,” Siebens continues.
The OJ Simpson trials turned out to be a few busy years for her and she was not able to be as present for her daughters as she usually was. She remembers this schizophrenia of thinking she should be at home when she was at the office, yet thinking she should be at the office when she was at home. But she made it work.
“Women are amazing. They can multitask in ways men have no idea. No idea. And we do it, we get it done, women get it done,” concludes Siebens.