How to tackle Steve Paikin’s gender troubles
Guest blog by Nancy Coldham, YWCA Toronto 2014 Woman of Distinction
A recent blog post by Steve Paikin, host of TVO debate program The Agenda, woke me up to the unbelievable reality that someone who hosts a publicly-funded program could struggle to find women experts to appear on his show.
My career in public affairs has introduced me to hundreds of articulate female experts, so it’s hard to believe he really can’t find women to appear as guests. Women experts are everywhere! To add insult to injury, Paikin got out a shovel and started digging by commenting:
“We’ve also discovered there also seems to be something in women’s DNA that makes them harder to book,” Paikin writes. “No man will ever say, ‘Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, I’m taking care of my kids.’ The man will find someone to take care of his kids so he can appear on a TV show. Women use that excuse on us all the time.”
Paikin added that women tell producers they can’t do the show because they are self-conscious about their appearances, citing one woman’s reason for declining as “my roots are showing.” He claims the men approached by The Agenda never say no and, unlike women, resolve to “get up to speed” on issues with which they lack familiarity in order to be on the show. Really? I find it all hard to accept given the women I know in leadership positions, women I’ve worked with, the over 800 amazing fellow members at the Verity women’s club plus women lawyers, economists, human rights experts, psychologists, medical experts and political pundits we all watch on other TV stations.
Never mind that most women in the public eye face torrents of criticism for their appearance after every public engagement. Never mind that childcare is still too often considered a woman’s responsibility. Never mind that women, even highly qualified experts, may be socialized to both think before speaking and doubt their own expertise far more often than men. If you ask me, we need to pose a few questions to Steve Paikin and TVO.
Once the outrage subsides, one must ask: why now? Why, in 2014, does an intelligent and respected journalist like Steve Paikin struggle to grasp the systemic reasons why prospective female guests might doubt their expertise, feel greater pressure to care for their children, or worry more about their appearances? And why doesn’t he know where to find women experts?
When the federal government published the Royal Commission’s Report on the Status of Women in 1970, I was just a teenager thinking about heading off to university. The report was a big deal. Today, I am a YWCA Toronto 2014 Woman of Distinction, and it’s still a big deal. Thanks to that Commission, a Minister of State for the Status of Women was appointed. The position still exists. Women have supposedly broken through many “glass ceilings” to become politicians, entrepreneurs, Olympic athletes, construction workers, and many other positions we used to think only men could hold. But we still face resistance, ignorance and backlash at all levels of professional success.
So when an influential person like Steve Paikin uses his voice to blame the women of Ontario for shying away from the public eye, we have to ask why? Paikin’s well-intentioned but tone-deaf blog post made it painfully clear that discrimination doesn’t just take the shape of overt hostility – it can also manifest in erasure, dismissal and resistance to change. What message is TVO, a public broadcaster that prioritizes education, sending to female viewers of all ages?
Paikin and his team clearly need help. My call to action: The Agenda needs a full-time woman co-host – and fast! Not a visiting host. Not a woman to step in when Steve needs to go on vacation or write a book or recharge his batteries, but an equal partner to co-host.
Ontario has no shortage of qualified women journalists and broadcasters. How can our provincial “Agenda” be defined solely by a man? A woman co-host is likely to know other competent women, or at least know where to start looking. She might also have a more nuanced understanding of women’s reasons for declining to appear, and be in a better position than Paikin to advise producers on how to assuage the concerns of prospective female guests. Let’s help TVO get a balanced gender perspective on their flagship program – let’s demand a full-time woman co-host for The Agenda.
Write to Premier Kathleen Wynne. Write to Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak and NDP leader Andrea Horwath. TVO reports to the Ontario Minister of Education, so write to Liz Sandals, the Minister of Education. Write to Ms. Sandals’ Parliamentary Assistant Bas Balkissoon, and write to the Education critics for the Progressive Conservatives (Rob Leone) and NDP (Peter Tabuns). Don’t shrug this off. Demand a woman co-host.
Use the hashtag #PaikinCohost to tweet suggestions of women who would make great full-time co-hosts on The Agenda, like Piya Chattopadhyay who currently fills in for Steve part-time.
In 2013, TD Bank deputy chief economist Beata Caranci declared in a TD Bank Report that gender parity on corporate boards of directors was so important that boards must “comply or explain.” In other words, corporate boards should either comply with the principle of gender parity or explain why they cannot.
I think TVO should comply and explain. They should comply with our demand for a woman co-host for The Agenda, and if they refuse to do so, they should be prepared to explain why not.
Let’s shatter some glass ceilings at TVO.
Nancy Coldham, 2014 YWCA Toronto Woman of Distinction Award recipient, is a founding partner of public affairs consulting firm The CG Group. Nancy has spent the past three decades breaking down the barriers to greater representation of women at political decision-making tables, in boardrooms and as successful entrepreneurs.
Learn more about Nancy by reading her bio, and buy your ticket to celebrate her achievements on May 22nd at the 34th annual YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction Awards at the Carlu. For more information, visit womenofdistinction.ca.