Why we need more women’s voices in the media

Research from the Women’s Leadership Institute of Australia, which analysed more than 6,000 articles across six major Australian newsprint publications, found that just 21 per cent of sources quoted were female, with women accounting for 13 per cent of sources in business articles, 14 per cent in finance and 20 per cent in politics.

The issue with gender imbalance is its one-sided perspective that has potential to limit the conversation.

Currently, Australian media does not reflect the diversity of experiences and perspectives in contemporary Australian society – this goes for gender, but also race, religion, sexuality and disability. This is problematic because the complex ideological and broad influence exerted by the media means it has the power to influence values and norms and shape what we perceive as normal.

“Why are women so substantially underrepresented in media coverage? Partly because they are still underrepresented at the top of fields such as politics, business and sport. But it's also to do with busy journalists needing to think more broadly and make the effort to inject fresh blood into their contact books.”

ABC’s Director of News Gaven Morris

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins highlights representation as one of the key barriers to gender equality: “There are a number of barriers to women progressing to leadership roles, including the inability to access flexible working conditions, lack of role models and stereotypes about women in the workplace.”

So how can we address this gender imbalance in the media? Clearly, it will take a lot more work. But tangible progress is being made to achieve gender parity in newsrooms and increase the number of female media resources.

In 2017, the New York Times appointed a team to ensure a gender lens is applied to all its stories as part of its Gender Initiative. This means taking a critical look at how news is represented, from the subject of stories, to the people quoted in articles and the imagery used, explains New York Times’ gender editor Jessica Bennett.

“Gender coverage […] means thinking about things like tone, visual display, representation in that visual display, who is writing articles, who is being photographed in those articles, sources we quote, and so on,” said Ms Bennett.

“We were very purposeful in the creation of this role that we were not trying to recreate the ‘women’s pages’ of five decades ago – when content dubbed to be for ‘women’ was cordoned off into its own section of the newspaper.”

In the UK, the BBC pledged to have 50:50 gender split of expert voices by April 2019.

Last year, the Financial Times developed a bot to automatically warn its journalists if their articles quote too many men, in an attempt to force writers to look for expert women to include in their pieces.
And ABC News here in Australia is expanding its talent/source database, specifically calling for women to sign-up as expert talent, opinion leaders and sources for interviews/commentary.

While there is no silver bullet to achieving gender equality, starting with representation in the media is an important part of the solution.

By Miette Stevens-Lelievre