Several people I interviewed told me that the outcome of the 2016 election and the advent of the #MeToo movement have been galvanizing forces for journalists’ attention to the problem. Samara Klar, a political scientist at the University of Arizona, said she grew so frustrated with the deluge of male political experts being asked to comment on the 2016 election that she created a website called Women Also Know Stuff. The site now has 1,900 scholars listed in a database to help journalists and event planners find female political scientists to speak with and bring on television and radio.
“It seemed, talking anecdotally, that women were called when Hillary [Clinton] was the victim of sexism,” Klar said. She wants women to be asked to comment on stories related to their academic work, not their gender. Her project has sparked offshoots in more than a dozen other fields, including chemistry and philosophy, and it has led to similar networks for researchers of color and LGBTQ scholars.
Read: I spent two years trying to fix the gender imbalance in my stories
Most work being done to tackle this problem has come from individuals reflecting on their own work, but some institutions are taking notice. The Financial Times has several initiatives intended to counter gender disparities. In November, it announced its “She said He said” bot, which analyzes pronouns and first names to tell writers how many of their sources are men and how many are women. Another program, JanetBot, alerts editors about how many women and men appear in images on the FT’s home page. Last year, the FT tasked Brooke Masters, its new opinion editor, with diversifying the newspaper’s columnists. All of this, notably, stems from a desire “to attract more women readers,” the FT said in a press release, adding that it has found a “positive correlation between stories including quotes of women and higher rates of engagement with female readers.”
The BBC, too, has publicly committed itself to including more women’s voices. Its 50:50 program aims to make half of all “expert voices” quoted on air and online be women by April 2019. Two years after one team started the project as a grassroots initiative in 2017, it’s been adopted by 400 teams at the British broadcaster.
Public awareness around gender imbalances of all kinds has increased in recent years. And when more people recognize gender bias as a problem, solving that problem becomes a more urgent goal. “It’s just less socially acceptable for journalists to write an article that only quotes men,” Klar told me. Prominent male journalists email her often to tell her how much they use the Women Also Know Stuff lists of female experts.
But the women and men who want to amplify female voices in the media have a peculiar advantage: the understanding that people, particularly well-known public figures such as professors or journalists, simply don’t want to be publicly shamed. “There’s a lot of men out there,” Klar explained, “who don’t want to be perceived as sexist.”