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Lady Liberty

No Women Experts On That Topic? Check The Database, Please

A woman stands in front of a camera in a studio. Illustrative.

A woman stands in front of a camera in a studio. Illustrative.

Online, searchable collections of women experts may be the key to getting them more visibility in the media.

Only around one in four sources consulted for expert analysis and commentary in Western media are women, but a number of organizations have set out to correct this imbalance.

They’re building databases of women with expertise in a wide variety of fields--aerospace technology, small business management, history, and hundreds more--and promoting them directly to journalists and broadcasters as knowledgeable sources to interview on their programs and quote in their articles.

“We were frustrated by the profusion of white men in grey suits everywhere,” said Kate McCarthy, director of She Source, one of the first such databases, managed by the Women’s Media Center since 2011. The dearth of women experts appearing as sources, as perceived by the founders of the Women’s Media Center (WMC), which focuses on U.S. media, was confirmed by their own research as well as that of many other media monitors.

Men accounted for roughly 74 percent of guests on major TV networks’ Sunday morning news shows, according the WMC’s 2015 report Status Of Women In U.S. Media; women represented just 23 percent of newsmakers on the 84 news websites monitored for the report. The asymmetry is even starker for what are considered hard news topics like politics and economics. In a one-year monitoring period between 2013-2014, women accounted for only 28 percent of guest appearances in evening segments focused on the economy on the three major U.S. cable news networks, according to Media Matters.

She Source currently has over 950 women experts in a vast array of subjects in its database, according to McCarthy. She says their internal metrics show hundreds of journalists search the database every day. She Source also makes personal introductions between journalists and the women in their database, and sends regular media advisories with top news stories and corresponding women experts they recommend contacting for comment.

“We encourage media outlets to count the number of women they quote and set themselves a target,” said McCarthy. “A news story with a diversity of voices is always a richer story.”

In the UK, equally discouraging figures on women’s representation in the media have been found and, in response, similar women’s database initiatives are underway.

Women were tapped as expert commentators across print, radio, and television just 25 percent of the time in the UK and 22 percent of the time in Europe in 2010, according to the Global Media Monitoring Project. Interestingly, women’s appearances in national media came close to reaching parity with men when their professional or social status was irrelevant to the story, for example in stories about parenting, travel, and hobbies.

Her Say, a database targeting UK national media, has 500 women experts and counting in its database, according to Associate Director Kirsty Walker. Formed by an all-women PR consultancy firm, Her Say not only promotes its women experts, but also makes sure they’re camera-ready when they get the call by offering media training courses on presentation, social media, and general tips to be more media savvy.

“There is a wealth of women experts out there, and now there is no excuse for the media not using them,” said Walker. “Broadcasters are working hard to redress that imbalance, and they know now that it’s not in their interest to have male-only panels.”

In the UK, there is also The Women’s Room expert database, and the BBC’s Expert Women’s Day program, which provides training for women presenters.

Women experts database projects have been launched in Europe as well, and the format could be easily emulated in other countries where the media fails to fully embrace women’s expertise.

Any woman, including other journalists with specific regional or reporting expertise, can apply to be included in these expert databases through a simple registration process on the websites. Managers of the sites encourage women not to underestimate the contributions they can make to important conversations taking place.

“If we want our daughters and sisters to obtain a certain level of power and influence in these fields,” said McCarthy “then we have to show them women in these positions speaking in the media from a position of authority.”

--Emily Thompson