The BBC has pledged to have an even split between male and female sources by April 2019, while Bloomberg has also announced new plans to improve its gender game. Can it be done?
It doesn’t take major research to quickly identify the lack of female sources present in the business sections of our major newspapers.
Just open up any major newspaper, on any day of the week, and start searching for the female sources quoted. You’ll find they’re far outnumbered by men.
When the Women’s Leadership Institute of Australia did major research into the issue back in 2016, looking at 6000 print articles, it found that just 21% of sources quoted were female, with women accounting for just 13% of sources in business articles, just 14% in finance and 20% in politics.
So what can be done?
In an effort to address its own problem with getting women quoted, the BBC has just announced that half of the expert sources providing commentary across its news and current affairs programmes will be female by April next year. The goal does not cover any “relevant minister, official, or organisational representative” and only targets the “experts” that are tapped to offer their insights on stories.
For the BBC, the news comes following some serious internal problems regarding the treatment of female staff, including findings last year that two thirds of the best paid 96 presenters were male and white.
The BBC says it will issue reports on how the target is tracking in order to hold itself accountable, and that the move is necessary in order to transform the range of expert voices on the BBC. The move also follows its 2013 creation of the “women’s expert database” which has seen more than 100 women reviewing free media training.
But not everyone is convinced this latest quota-esque strategy will significantly change things at the BBC.
Jane Garey from the BBC Women’s Hour told The Guardian the move only targets one aspect of diversity, and that she’s underwhelmed by the announcement. “It sounds like a half-decent attempt but they are always doing this. It’s like the government – they are always announcing things that are new when they are not. I am not overwhelmed with enthusiasm as I feel have heard it all before.”
Can a “quota for quotes” help?
Back in late 2014, Bloomberg announced its own push to get more women quoted, with reporters at the financial news organisation asked to include at least one woman’s voice, and preferably a balance of male and female voices, in stories about enterprise.
At the time Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg’s News editor-in-chief, said that: “Women are engaged in every topic we cover. Our journalism should reflect that variety.”
But last month Bloomberg issued it’s own update on “raising women’s voices” in the media conceding that like many media organisations, it has “struggled to move the needle meaningfully,” on the issue.
It’s still trying. It’s now using “champions’ across bureaus worldwide to help build a “definitive global database of women executives in business and finance” that it can regularly tap. It’s goal this year is to increase the representation of women across every platform, and it’s using a new tool embedded in its content management processes to help. Editors on stories can now check whether the “BNSHESAID” box has been ticked, which is done whenever a woman has been interviewed regarding a story filed.
On air, Bloomberg has also launched a pilot program funding media training for 12 women at some of the largest financial firms, which they say they will aim to expand and scale if successful.
Can the BBC achieve its goal of a 50/50 split in male and female expert voices quoted? We’ll know by April 2018.
In the meantime, it’s good to see the BBC admitting it has a problem and acknowledging the importance of fixing it. We’d like to see more media organisations doing the same.