Earlier this year, science writer Ed Yong announced in The Atlantic that he’d spent two years consciously trying to level the gender balance in his stories, ensuring the sources he spoke with represented the whole talent pool. We write frequently about diversity and wondered about our own grade on this scale.
So we checked the numbers going back to the start of 2017. Our study wasn’t scientific, like Yong’s (just us tallying names), but the results are in: we can do better.
Just under 40 per cent of the sources we spoke to over the past 14 months were women. That’s 10 per cent above the national average, according to Shari Graydon, founder of the Ottawa-based nonprofit Informed Opinions, whose goal is to elevate women’s voices in media.
In print and on TV, in newsrooms and in the stories they chase, men invariably take up more space. Women spend less time on camera and receive fewer column inches. Men not only hold the power of the pen, as they are also turned to more frequently for expertise or soundbites, accounting for 70 per cent of all people quoted in news articles, on TV and radio in Canada.
The face you see bringing you your news most nights is likely a man’s, that’s easy to spot. But so is the person who prepared his notes. And the expert he’s interviewing to add context to the story.
We use our column to shed light on issues that are important to us, including equality. But that isn’t enough. We have to reach out to more voices.
Even more than the numbers Graydon shared with us, what struck us is the types of stories women are usually left out of: science, business and international relations pieces. It’s as if there aren’t women among the leaders in gene editing research, on the cusp of human rights law or championing sustainable business practices.
With #MeToo sweeping across Hollywood, and Washington and Times Up expanding the movement to other industries that rarely see the spotlight, what’s at stake here is hard to ignore. These are extreme cases of women’s voices and experiences that have been historically and categorically ignored. Culturally, we are at a tipping point.
We can extend this energy to TV screens and cinemas, to the newspapers, family bookshelves and dinner tables across the country. We can read more women writers, watch more women directors.
And we can take personal responsibility — something we’re doing right now.
We are two white men and it would be easy for us to rely on experts and sources who share our complexion and our privilege. But that’s not how we grow. And it’s certainly not how we build a more representative and fair country.
We thought we’d done our part by writing about important issues that matter to both women and men. But just as much as the subjects we tackle, the perspectives we include matter.
“Passive support is not enough,” Graydon told us in a phrase that will continue to motivate our efforts. “If you’re not paying attention, you’re not going to change.”
Now, we’re paying attention. We hope you are too.