During the IABC Ottawa panel discussion in April on gender equality, diversity and inclusion, audience members learned about the Gender Gap Tracker, an initiative from Informed Opinions, which tracks women experts in Canadian media. Currently, the Gender Gap Tracker shows that the aggregate percentage of women’s voices in the Canadian media never rises above 26 per cent.

This data serves as a wake-up call on the need for more diversity in the news – and hopefully inspires communications professionals in Ottawa to lead the charge on changing these bleak statistics.

What exactly is the Gender Gap Tracker?
“The Gender Gap Tracker scrapes data from online news sites and identifies the percentage of women versus men quoted or interviewed,” says Shari Graydon, co-founder and catalyst of Informed Opinions.

While the Gender Gap Tracker is an excellent source of data on men versus women in the media, it cannot go beyond these basic gender markers.

“Name recognition databases and pronoun identifiers such as ‘she said’ and ‘he explained’ make gender measurement possible. But other aspects of diversity rarely show up in text unless a news story is explicitly about or addresses particular identity issues. Sadly, there’s no clear or easy means of assessing most other dimensions including race, age or other gender identities,” Graydon notes.

While Gender Gap Tracker can’t track everything, its data highlights a clear problem in need of solving.

Barriers and the need for diversity in the news
Busy journalists on deadline understandably default to the usual suspects, including sources they’ve drawn on previously. As well, men dominate the most senior ranks of many industries making them more visible and better known. As a result, women are invited to comment less often than men.

Graydon also stresses that women turn down media opportunities much more often than men. “Women have learned through observation and experience that they will likely be held to a higher standard of expertise than their male colleagues. The spotlight is less appealing if it’s accompanied by gendered criticism, trolling and harassment.”

Women, men and other gender identities have different experiences, perspectives and even biological realities that must be considered when making policy decisions and developing community programs. The media play an important role in influencing decision-makers and society. Today, the Canadian news landscape is losing out on diverse lived experiences that bring new depth to issues that affect Canadians.

An opportunity for communications professionals
Media relations specialists can influence their organizations and clients to prepare and pitch more diverse spokespeople.

“Communications professionals can support and promote women in their daily communications and encourage them to join Informed Opinions’ database, making it easier for journalists to find them,” says Graydon. “They can also actively identify and train more diverse spokespeople.”

Informed Opinions began working on amplifying women’s voices in the media in 2010. They have motivated, trained and supported more than 2,500 women experts from all over Canada to write op-eds and to say yes to media requests.

“It’s easy to criticize and complain about inequality, but our focus has always been on concrete strategies and actions that support change,” says Graydon.

This is a great strategy for communications professionals in Ottawa to follow as well.

Learn more about Informed Opinions and take action now by clicking on the news outlet logos listed on the Gender Gap Tracker to immediately send a message to them to start tracking the gender of their sources in pursuit of more democratic public conversations.