On September 20, 2011, the Status of Women and Equity Committee hosted a public lecture by Shari Graydon entitled Informed Opinions: Causes and Consequences of the Gender Gap in Public Discourse (or The Top 7 Reasons Smart Women Should Speak Up!). Shari Graydon is an award-winning author, journalist and communications consultant with 20 years of experience on both sides of the media microphone. A former newspaper columnist, TV producer and commentator for CBC radio and TV, she also served as press secretary to a provincial premier, and as president of Media Watch.
Her talk at the University of Waterloo focused on how scarce women's perspectives are in the public discourse, and what's behind their absence. Here are some of the highlights.
Recent studies from Informed Opinions and McMaster University demonstrate an overall 5:1 ratio of male to female opinion in Canadian news outlets, despite an abundance of female expertise in Canada.
The power of media
Information media has a “stunning” influence on: attitudes and behaviour, priorities and policies, decisions and actions. E.g., the influence of media representations of crime on public policy despite lower crime rates.
The gender gap
- Men are quoted more often even in areas where women dominate.
- Journalists report having trouble getting women for interviews.
- Men rarely, if ever, say “I’m not really the best person” and refer someone else.
- Women tend to think about people who are more suitable for the interview.
- The Op Ed is the most influential page in a newspaper. Op Ed editors say that women, ethnic minorities, and young people submit far less often.
- Margaret Wendte accounts for 40% of female perspectives in opinion columns in The Globe and Mail.
- Reasons for declining to engage include: time, not craving the limelight, not being familiar with the op ed process, being criticism-averse (criticism, especially online, tends to be gendered), and believing others are better qualified.
Seven reasons to speak up
- To counter overt sexism.
- To focus attention on issues men are less inclined to address.
- To provide role models for other women.
- To challenge injustice in all its forms.
- To voice the concerns and validate the experiences of those who cannot speak up.
- To increase your influence.
- Because a greater diversity of perspectives will benefit us all.
Benefits to the university
Op eds raise the university’s profile, counter anti-intellectualism, and demonstrate the relevance of the university to the community.
Read the press release for the event.