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Research

What Gets Measured Gets Done

Got women? Canada’s mainstream media inching towards gender parity

new study reveals not only that women remain significantly underrepresented as subjects and sources in the Canadian media, but that despite increasingly widespread attention to the problem, little has changed in more than two decades.

The research, commissioned by Informed Opinions, shows that men currently account for 71% of all those quoted or interviewed for newspaper articles and broadcast segments.

The independently-conducted study reviewed more than 1,400 articles and broadcast segments from seven Canadian newspapers and media outlets over the course of three distinct monitoring periods between October and December 2015.

The results reveal that women’s voices make up only 29% of those being heard on air or quoted in print.

When individuals who were neither Canadian nor in Canada were omitted from the sample, female representation rose slightly to 32%.

What’s most disappointing is that so little has changed in more than two decades.

Content analysis conducted annually by Media Action between 1990 and 1993 found the number of women quoted or interviewed in the Canadian media rose marginally from 17% to 22%.

However, the ratio of male to female voices in the current study varied considerably from one news outlet to another, suggesting that journalists who make an effort are able to reflect greater diversity of sources and perspectives than those who don’t.

Read the Executive Summary below. Download a PDF version of the Executive Summary here.

Read the full research report: Gender of Sources Used in Major Canadian Media

Un résumé est aussi disponible en français


Gender of sources used in major Canadian media

By Marika Morris, Ph.D., Adjunct Research Professor, School of Canadian Studies, Carleton University
Ottawa, Canada – Marika.Morris@Carleton.ca

Executive Summary

Introduction

  • The purpose of this study is to provide statistically valid baseline data on the gender of who is quoted in major Canadian media of national reach, so that the same methodology can be applied to a subsequent study in three years’ time to measure any progress made during a period in which Informed Opinions is doing outreach to media and creating tools for journalists for finding female expert sources.

Methodology

  • The study examined 1,467 articles and broadcast segments from seven Canadian media outlets/programs with high audience/readership numbers and a national reach (online versions of the Globe and MailToronto StarNational PostLa Presse, CTV National News, CBC The Current and ICI Tout le monde en parle). Only news sections of the online versions of the print publications were reviewed, excluding sports, regional or local news, entertainment, etc. unless stories from these sections appeared in the top headlines.
  • During three monitoring periods from October to December 2015, the study collected 15 days of data resulting in a sample of 3,213 persons quoted who had an identifiable gender. Transgender persons were coded as whatever gender they presented as.

Analysis and results

  • Male sources quoted accounted for almost three-quarters of all persons quoted (71%), and women were 29%.
  • When persons who were not Canadian and not in Canada were removed from the sample, male representation dropped to 68%, which is still over two-thirds of people quoted, and female representation was 32%, about a third of persons quoted.
  • There was a statistically significant relationship (p<0.01) between gender and media outlet, which existed whether international sources or Canadian sources only were examined. Public broadcasters did better than the private broadcaster or the print media in terms of representation of women as sources.
  • For the full sample, these were the media outlets/broadcasts with the best representation of women as sources, in descending order: ICI Tout le monde en parle (41%), CBC The Current (40%), Toronto Star (34%), La Presse (28%), Globe and Mail (27%), National Post (26%), CTV National News (23%).
  • For the Canadian only sample of persons quoted, these were the media outlets/broadcasts with the best representation of women as sources, in descending order: CBC The Current (43%), ICI Tout le monde en parle (42%), Toronto Star (37%), Globe and Mail, La Presse and National Post were tied at 28%, CTV National News (26%).
  • Men outnumbered women in every professional category, whether or not the full sample (Canadian and international) or the Canadian-only sample. For the Canadian-only sample, 66% of academics quoted were men, 76% of politicians were men, 70% of unelected government officials were men, 52% of people associated with an NGO were men, 78% of those associated with private business were men, 73% of those quoted from the legal profession were men, 55% of those quoted in the health professions were men, 66% of people quoted as sources who worked in the media were men, 66% of those in creative occupations were men, 88% of police personnel quoted were men, 100% of our sample of individuals associated with sports were men. For every professional/occupational category for which data was available, women were significantly under-represented relative to their numbers in these professions/occupations as recorded in 2011 Statistics Canada data, except in the political category.
  • The health professions were the one exception to the trend of the over-representation of men, at least on the surface. In this category, 53% were women, and 47% were men in the full sample, but this declined to 45% women and 55% men in the Canadian only sample. To put this in perspective, Statistics Canada 2011 indicated that women make up 80% of health occupations in Canada, including 58% of professional occupations in health excluding nursing.
  • Women are under-represented in a number of occupations in real life, such as in the natural and applied sciences, plumbers, electricians, construction, transport and heavy equipment operation, etc. To deal with the imbalance in the natural and applied sciences, we did not cover science and technology sections of version of print media websites. The latter group (trades, technicians and heavy labour) were not a significantly quoted group in the media, and people in these occupations were coded as a part of the “other” category.
  • Of persons in the victim/witness category, 47% were female and 53% were male. In the Canadian only sample, female representation dropped: 44% were female and 56% were male. The ratio of women to men as victim and witness sources exceeded the ratio of women to men in the professional categories, except in the health field. Men are more often presented in the media as experts than as victims or witnesses.
  • A gender balance (50% women, 50% men) was recorded for person-on-the-street interviews. The diversity of those interviewed seemed to be dependent on the reporter, with one reporter in particular achieving a good diversity in terms of gender, race and age, and some others, less so.
  • The study also made an experimental foray into collecting data on other kinds of diversity. The collection of data on types of diversity other than gender (racial, ethnocultural, linguistic, religious, disability, sexual or gender identity) is problematic because people’s association with these groups is not always known or obvious in print, radio and TV. We collected data on perceived diversity status, but because of methodological difficulties associated with collecting these data, no valid conclusions can be drawn.
  • There was no significant statistical relationship between gender and length of time quoted. Once women are quoted, they tend to be quoted for the same length of time as men.
  • An analysis was performed using just articles and segments produced by media outlet staff, excluding articles and segments from newswire services or reprinted/rebroadcast from other sources. There was no significant difference, meaning that the gender imbalance is not due to the use of newswires or reprinted/rebroadcasted articles or segments from other sources.
  • We found significant differences between the October, November and December reporting periods. This could mean that gender of persons quoted varies by what stories are in the news at any given time, and underlines the necessity of having multiple reporting periods separated by spaces of time, which can then be averaged.

Recommendations for journalists

  • Try to achieve gender balance where possible. If you are doing streeters, don’t just take the first three who respond, if they are all men. Actively seek more opinions until you get a balance of women. Pay attention to diversity of age and background. This makes for better reporting and more well-rounded stories.
  • If a female source says she is not the best person to comment, or she doesn’t have the time, let her know that male sources far outnumber female sources, and that the story will benefit from women’s perspectives.
  • If a female source says she doesn’t have the time to do the interview, acknowledge her time challenges, but let her know that it will only take a couple of minutes, and that her existing knowledge and understanding of the story’s context will add value to the story.
  • In order to help counteract negative experiences many women have had with public reaction or online abuse due to their media appearances, build trust and respect with female sources by giving positive feedback where warranted, such as calling back and saying things such as “Thank you for the interview, it was just what we needed,” “We saw a very positive reaction to that story,” “You explained the situation very well.”
  • Give the same respect, airtime, and acknowledgement of titles, qualifications and achievements to female experts as you would give to a male expert.
  • If a panel member is dominating the discussion, turn to the other panel members and ask them direct questions to ensure that their perspectives are heard.
  • Choosing a male over a female source is often not a conscious act. To determine whether you are doing this, choose a time period of a week or two. Track the gender of your sources, and determine whether you are contributing to presenting a gender imbalance or whether you are fully utilizing qualified women as sources.
  • Use the ExpertWomen database to expand your expert contacts.
  • Talk with colleagues about how these recommendations about achieving gender balance are simply good journalistic practice.

2013 MEDIA MONITORING RESEARCH:

Major dailies publishing more women experts in 2013 vs 2010

In a survey of the editorial pages of four major English-language Canadian daily newspapers earlier this spring, the amount of space devoted to female commentators’ perspectives appeared to increase significantly over a similar study conducted three years ago. Whereas opinion pieces written by women in the Globe and MailNational PostOttawa Citizen and Toronto Star accounted for only 11% of those published in a period sampled in 2010, data collected in February – March of this year showed a doubling to 22% of all op eds.

 

The Ottawa Citizen’s data remained consistent between the two periods (about 28%) – and the highest among the four papers), but op eds written by women increased in the Globe and Mail and the National Post from 8% and 9% respectively in 2010, to 23% each this year. TheToronto Star, which had published no female op ed contributors in our previous sampling, featured 15% female experts this time.

This increase of women’s voices on op ed pages appears to be the result of a number of factors:

Our 2013 snapshot was more rigorous than the previous research, capturing three full weeks of each paper’s commentary, rather than the one to two weeks studied in 2010, and including pieces in both the print and online editions. (The limitations of the shorter 2010 sample included, for example, what turned out to be an anomalous drop in women’s commentary in the Globe. Previous research had documented the paper’s female op ed ratio ranging from 15 to 20%, well above the 8% we found.)

However, anecdotal evidence also suggests that more women are submitting commentary than ever before, and newspaper editors are more attuned to the under-representation of women on their pages than they were three years ago, and are working harder to address the imbalance.

ONLINE SPACE INCREASES PUBLICATION OPPORTUNITIES

The Globe and Mail, which has been supplementing its print pages with an online commentary hub, published almost three times (77) as many external commentators as the other papers studied (24, 25 and 29).

COLUMN DISTRIBUTION MORE EQUITABLE THAN OP EDS

Female columnists at the Toronto StarGlobe and Mail and Ottawa Citizen contributed about two-fifths of the papers’ staff commentary (40%, 39% and 37% respectively).

In contrast, the National Post sample (gathered online) featured only 20% of columns written by female writers. However, some of the Post’s regular contributors maintain regular blogs, and a few of the male writers are especially prolific in this respect, which had an impact on this ratio.

PROFESSIONAL BREAKDOWN OF CONTRIBUTORS VARIES BETWEEN PAPERS

What kinds of experts dominated the pages? Research scholars were featured most often by The Toronto Star (50%), the Globe and Mail (40%) and the Ottawa Citizen (39%), followed by think tank or NGO contributors (16%, 24% and 22% respectively). Writers and artists (broadly defined) made up the third largest category at both the Globe (9%) and the Citizen(22%), followed at those papers by journalists from other media (8% and 11%).

The National Post was again an outlier, featuring think tank or NGO contributors most often (27%), followed by media and academic writers (23% each), and political authors (11%).

INFORMED OPINIONS CONTRIBUTING TO INCREASE

Since its launch in 2010, Informed Opinions has delivered workshops to more than 480 female experts across the country, offering them insights into how to effectively translate their knowledge into short-form persuasive analysis appropriate to commentary pages and websites. The majority of our workshop participants have been university researchers, but a significant number work in the non-profit sector (including think tanks, associations and health and social service organizations).

More than 100** of our “graduates” have since published commentary in the newspapers studied, as well as in other dailies and online sites, on a wide range of issues. Most are also listed in our online Experts Network, which is designed to make it easier for journalists looking for expert women to find them.

** This number may be closer to 200; we’re only able to reliably track our grads’ commentary when they send it to us for editing feedback, and we know anecdotally that many submit and publish without soliciting the additional support we make available as part of the training we offer.


2010 MEDIA MONITORING RESEARCH:

Women’s perspectives MIA in influential news media

Building on previous studies in both Canada and the US, and with the help of the University of Ottawa’s Media Relations Office, Informed Opinions monitored the commentary pages of six daily newspapers and analyzed the guest lists of three broadcast talk shows for up to two weeks earlier this spring.*

The results echo those documented by both US research and a recent McMaster University study (see below): women’s perspectives are missing in action in some of the highest profile media vehicles most likely to influence Canadians’ opinions on key public policy issues. Both English and French language media chronically under-represent women’s views. Only 16% of the op eds published in the six papers during the period surveyed were written by women, while female columnists represented 15% of the regular contributors in English language dailies, and 23% in French language newspapers.

The National Post reserves considerably more space for commentary than The Globe, The Star or The Citizen. Despite this, women’s voices are even less well represented in the Post (8% of columns and 9% of op eds) than in any of its competitors. Only the French language Le Droit does a poorer job (6%) among the print publications surveyed. In contrast, Le Devoir boasts the most female-friendly numbers, with women’s authorship comprising 53% of the Montreal-based paper’s signed editorials, 25% of its columns, and 20% of its op eds.)

In the sample studied, The Toronto Star represents a study in contrasts: Female columnists made up an impressive 44% of all in-house commentators, outshining all other English language dailies monitored by a significant margin. However, during the same week, not one of the 10 op eds published in The Star’s pages was by a woman.

Although an ad hoc review of The Globe and Mail’s op ed pages last fall found women-penned commentary at 23%, the week studied this spring reflected a significant (and perhaps anomalous) drop to 8%. Female columnists fared slightly better at 18%, however Margaret Wente, who usually writes three times a week, penned only one column in the period studied, no doubt skewing the numbers. (In the previous month-long sample of Globe op ed pages, Ms. Wente’s views comprised fully 40% of the female perspectives expressed on the paper’s comment pages.)

On the electronic front, both French and English public broadcasters did a better job of including women’s voices than the private station. CBC Radio’s The Current featured 31% female guests (11/35) and RDI’s Sans Frontieres managed 29% (15/52), but CTV’s Power Play, which focuses exclusively on federal politics, included only one woman out of 27 guests.

The dramatic gender gap has serious public policy implications in that the issues presented in these forums both reflect and influence government policy and priorities. The absence of women’s perspectives means that discussions of issues affecting women differently – from health care and labour practices to societal violence and participation in the third sector – fail to benefit from women’s informed opinions.

*Included in the sample were The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Ottawa Citizen, CBC Radio’s The Current and CTV’s Power Play. Complementary data were also collected from French language media outlets Le Devoir, Le Droit and the RDI program, Sans Frontieres. Each paper was monitored for a minimum of one week, and published between 11 and 35 op eds during the period studied. The overall number of female versus male voices in the form of columns, op eds, signed editorials (which appear in the two French language dailies), and talk show guests was 74 to 288, or 20%.

 


 

McMaster study finds 5 to 1 ratio of male to female opinion

Another recent study of commentary pieces in Canada’s two major English-language newspapers also shows that women’s authorship remains at 1/5th the level of men’s, and remains largely absent from newspapers’ traditional “hard news” issues of politics, economics, and current events.

Sarah Marinelli and Philip Savage of McMaster University analyzed a random sample of 80 opinion-editorials in 2009 from The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star, examining not only the gender of op-ed authorship, but also the issues addressed, and authors’ professions. The 80-20% gender split was consistent in both papers and similar to the findings of a recent US study conducted by the Op Ed Project, which has recently updated this research.

Approximately 75% of the subjects addressed in the Canadian sample were in “hard news” areas of politics (40%), economics (15%), and foreign and national affairs (10% each). The remaining 25% was split among traditional soft news subjects such as social issues, health care, culture and the environment.

Whereas women comprised 20% of total Op-ed authorship, in the “hard news” subject areas their proportion of authorship dropped by half to 10%, with men writing 90% of all commentary on politics, national and international affairs, and business/economics. By contrast in the softer subject areas (which represented a smaller proportion of total op-eds published – about one-quarter) female authorship rose to 35%.

Hypothesizing that profession would be a key indicator for confidence in writing for the op-ed pages, the study found a substantial number of media professionals on the op-ed pages, including 47.5% of male authors and the majority (73%) of female authors. Among the other 27% of female authors, there were no female politicians or academics, whereas 21% of male authors were academics and 15% were politicians.