#BalanceforBetter in the Media? We’re Long Overdue

Opinion by Lisa Kimmel, Chair & CEO of Edelman Canada; Chair, Edelman Latin America and Global Women’s Equality Network; and, 2019 YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction

Every year, International Women’s Day (IWD) comes around again and reminds us gender inequality still requires our attention and action. It might be easy to be frustrated at the pace of change. I certainly wish we could break down stereotypes and inequity more quickly. It’s something I’ve been talking about for years.

As the organizers behind IWD rightly point out, balance is not a women’s issue – it’s a business issue.  The repercussions of gender inequity have a significant impact on trust in our institutions and, in turn, on progress in society. The 2019 year-long campaign theme for IWD is #BalanceforBetter. It is a call to action for all of us to celebrate women’s achievement, raise awareness against bias, and take action for equality to forge more gender-balanced governments, boardrooms, media coverage, and wealth distribution.

Gender diversity in the media is something that hits particularly close to home for me given the industry I’m in and the clients I support. I’ve made it a priority to be a role model in this area, to raise my hand and say yes to speaking opportunities and media interviews – to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

On any given day, we typically sit at about 75 per cent male vs. 25 per cent female sources quoted in some of the most trusted news sources in Canada.

Because the fact of the matter is, women have been significantly under-represented as sources for, and subjects in, the media for decades.  In 2014, I raised this issue when we held a panel discussion on the importance of closing the confidence gap for women in the media.  Back then, male voices outnumbered female voices by a factor of four to one in Canada’s most influential media sources. This, despite the fact women are about half of the population and workforce and represent more than 60 per cent of university grads.

Here we are in 2019 and what’s changed? Not much. Informed Opinions’ Gender Gap Tracker tells the story: on any given day, we typically sit at about 75 per cent male vs. 25 per cent female sources quoted in some of the most trusted news sources in Canada.

At a time when media remains the least trusted institution around the world, the time for action is now.  This year’s Trust Barometer found that women in developed markets tend to be more pessimistic about the future than men. Women also trust the business world far less than men (53 per cent vs. 59 per cent of men respectively in Canada). Meanwhile, engagement with the news increased among women in the general population by 22 points between 2018 and 2019. Yet, if that news doesn’t reflect the makeup and viewpoints of a broad, diverse community, we lose the opportunity to encourage greater trust.

United for News is committed to amplifying women’s voices in media to break down gender stereotypes, empower women and girls, and rebuild trust in media through inclusion.

One initiative that’s aiming to change this is United for News: a global multi-stakeholder coalition of media, private industry and NGOs, led by the international non-profit, Internews, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum. United for News is committed to amplifying women’s voices in media to break down gender stereotypes, empower women and girls, and rebuild trust in media through inclusion. The goal is to proactively address demand and supply issues to raise awareness and provide support for women experts to step forward and, in turn, increase the representation of women subject-matter-experts in news reporting around the world.

I’m proud that Edelman is a founding partner of this initiative, making specific commitments to make a meaningful impact on a global scale. These include:

The development of a communications training module for women: Women with profiles in the public eye or social media can often find themselves the victims of hate speech and trolling. Similarly, in media interviews, they can often be asked “can you have it all?” or be faced with equally insulting questions that ask how they manage career and family life instead of being allowed to focus on their business expertise.  We’ll be developing modules that look specifically at how women can build their profiles as experts in their fields while protecting themselves from the “dark side” of social media.

Practicing what we preach:  We’re committed to ensuring 50:50 gender balance in the spokespeople we nominate to speak on behalf of the Edelman business. This includes media opportunities, speaking engagements, written thought leadership, internal meetings, etc. We’ll also be encouraging our female clients to be public-facing through media interviews, speaking opportunities and thought leadership activities to build equity, trust and familiarity.  Action on the demand side by newspapers and broadcasters must be matched by ambitious commitment to advance gender equality on the supply side too.

But change doesn’t lie solely with global initiatives or massive investments.  It can start simply by putting your hand up – and encouraging others to do so. Call out gender imbalance, bias and complacency when you see it whether on panel discussions, in the paper, or on social media. Lead by example so that we can finally start moving the dial on this long overdue issue.

The pace of change may not be nearly as quick as we would like. I’m certainly not satisfied. However, if this kind of work and commitment continues, we will see change. It’s change that won’t simply benefit women. It will drive positive business outcomes and challenge the status quo for the long run and that’s work worth doing.

On May 23, 2019 Lisa Kimmel, along with eight other incredible change makers, will receive a 2019 YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction Award.