Hi everyone! We’re just making the transition from the previous panel to this one. The talk will start in a few minutes; stay tuned.
In the meantime, here’s a quick primer on our panelists:
Shari Graydon heads up Informed Opinions, a non-profit organization that works to amplify the voices of women in Canadian mainstream media.
Jane Davenport is managing editor at the Toronto Star.
Chrys Wu is a developer advocate for the New York Times.
Our moderator, Terra Tailleur is an assistant professor at University of King's College.
Tailleur: Shari, why don't you tell us more about why amplifying women's voices in media is important?
Graydon: The ratio in Canada, the U.S. and Britain is about 20 per cent female, 80 per cent female. There's really no good reason for that.
Graydon: Informed Opnions is really about working on both ends of the spectrum. One: encouraging women to say yes to interviews, that they're really expert enough to give an opinion on topics. Two: to encourage newsrooms to more actively look for female voices in sources.
Tailleur: Jane, does the Star have a formal policy on this?
Davenport: Not a formal policy, but we do have a strong initiative underway at the Star for about a year now about raising newsrooms awareness to reflect the diversity of the city more accurately. Gender is definitely part of that.
Davenport: It's something as similar as a streeter. If you go out and ask six people what they think of something, and at least two of those people aren't women, or people of colour, that's a missed opportunity.
Danvenport: But there are also challenges. If you look at stories about the closing of the Morgentaler clinic, the female voices were almost exclusively voices who opposed the closing. The policymakers where overwhelmingly male. There's no real way around that.
Tailluer: Chrys, you work in one of the most male-dominated areas, in the tech world. Do you see that there really is this division of gender?
Wu: Working at the NYT, our newsroom is about 1,000 people. Technology is about 500, 300-ish of which are developers. In tech the conversation is the same, but the industry has been talking more about raising the visibility of women. How you bring them into development in the first place.
Wu: How do you keep women in a field which, right now, is dominated by young white men. And not just retain them, but get them into the upper ranks.
Wu: There's a part of me that thinks, all of us as women, and non-white people, this notion of representation and being seen in media...we've been fighting it all our lives.
Wu: So, how do you turn rage into wrath? Even in the context of the NYT, the newsroom does a lot of the decision-making. But it's the tech department that's paving the future of the business' survival.
Wu: So part of my role is to bridge relationships between those two departments. And to have a woman be a part of that is significant.
Tailleur: How diverse is the team you work with?
Wu: Don't have the exact numbers, but the industry average for programming is abut 20 per cent women.
Wu: At the Times we're somewhere at 12 or 13 per cent. So the difficulty we have is the same difficulty any tech organization has.
Wu: We don't have the means to train novice or green people. We tend to look for people in senior positions.
Wu: Competition for good developers is different in the States than Canada. Competitors in Canada are The Star, Globe, Maclean's, etc. with each other. The NYT's competitors are companies like Google.
Tailleur: Let's talk about some of the barriers.
Graydon: In my experience, women are more likely to turn down requests for interviews. We've done a bunch of research about why that is.
Graydon: For TV, this is a huge issue. Women know that even someone like Hillary Clinton will be ridiculed for her fashion choices if she appears on TV.
Graydon: Brings up a recent blog post that The Agenda's Steve Paikin published lamenting the fact that it was harder to get women to come on TV panels, mentioning that they cite child care among the reasons why they turn down requests.
Graydon: There was a backlash to this, and so The Agenda hosted a panel on this issue in response. Since then, TVO has greatly improved their numbers of women who appear on its panels.
Tailleur: Do quotas help in this regard?
Davenport: I don’t know if you want to lock yourself into quotas, but you do want to be aware. There are areas where it’s more appropriate than others, such as academia.
Tailleur: Does having women in visible positions of management helpful for this?
Graydon: If you have someone like Jane at the head of the Toronto Star, and you're explicit about the importance of diversity, we really do know what gets measured gets done.
Graydon: If leadership makes it explicit, it's more likely to happen. But also, if news is always being defined by some small subset of the population, it's going to skew what we consider to be newsworthy.
Graydon: Informed Opinions trains women to write op-eds. We took the first 100 of the ones that came out of the project, and did a word cloud. Also did the same with a selected group of op-eds by men, and then did a search for overlapping words.
Graydon: Examples of words that were prominently used in op-eds written by women: abuse, support, treatment, violence, women, education.
Tailleur: My initial instinct to that list would be "I can't write an op-ed because I don't have something interesting to say. I don't have a story of sexual abuse, or lost a child..."
Wu: Why is it that people only want to interview women when something awful happens?
Wu: Women are people too. When I was an editor, some of the stories that we write, and the way we write them, it was so weird to think it was mystifying to people that women do certain things. Yes, they play sports and are bartenders and build games. And that affects the way we treat sources and the way we write about them.
Wu: It's not normal, and it drives me crazy.
Davenport: That sounds like women being written about and portrayed by men.
Davenport: At the Star we have a management team of about 30, half and half male and female.
Davenport: But our news coverage team leads are mostly women. Sports, city, features—the editors of these sections are women.
Davenport: These were the right people for the job at the time. Has it skewed our coverage? No, it hasn't, but I think that it's interesting that at our management table that there's complete acceptance and celebration of women.
Davenport: Also, what's traditionally been considered the qualities of a newsroom leader—tough, abrasive—in our newsroom, young female journalists can look around and see female leaders who aren't tough or abrasive.
Davenport: This idea that there's one type of leader has run its course. It's a dated notion.
Graydon: Thinking about the Star as a reader of the paper, the perspective of the Star is that it's the most progressive in the country—that's probably quite attractive to many female journalists.
Question from the audience: Once worked at a newsroom where an entire team of producers, all women, turned down a story about ending taxes on feminine hygiene products with local interest.