Publishers around the world are committing to ensure greater diversity in their news reporting as statistics reveal the gender bias in sourcing expert commentary.
Speaking at Campaign Asia-Pacific’s Women Leading Change conference in Singapore this week, Stephanie Phang, Southeast Asia managing editor at Bloomberg, announced a new initiative at the global media firm to ensure women make up 50% of the sources quoted in its news articles.
The discussion sprung from the findings, according to advocacy group United for News, that only 20% of expert sources quoted in news stories are female, and that women make up just 24% of who we hear and see in media generally.
For too long, Phang said, newsrooms have been overwhelmingly quoting male sources, particularly in the business press, and this is compounded by reporters returning to the same, reliable sources for stories, which impacts more women being represented on the front pages.
“It’s partly supply, an issue with corporate leadership,” she said, “but at the same time, it’s a matter of finding the up-and-coming women experts. We don’t realise they’re there because we see the same male leaders, we go back to them and keep quoting them.
“We don’t think to look elsewhere for voices. As a news organisation, our voice becomes stronger the more diverse it is. If every news organisation did it, it'd make a lot of difference. We'd be missing out half the world's point of view if we don't quote women.”
Thus Bloomberg is rolling out media training to female leaders in nine cities globally and its reporters are committing to quoting more women and creating a database of female experts across sectors, Phang said.
Lauren Myers-Cavanagh, director of marketing and special projects at Edelman, said from the business side, companies need to put forward more women as expert sources. “We recognise it’s a case of beefing up the ranks, making sure there are female experts trained and ready to speak to reporters.
“Ultimately it makes the news more representative, creates better content and builds trust with an audience, which is something we really worry about at my organisation.”
From an advertising perspective, while wanting to increase the number of women represented is positive, Lizzie Nolan, head of integrated strategy at BBH, said the issue was more about the stereotyped representation of women in adverts.
“Asia is home to an exciting new generation of ambitious, financially-savvy women,” Nolan said. “Yet the stories are all about the female caregiver, the women who perhaps don’t speak out as much. Advertisers have to find these new women. In any case, they are just far more interesting in terms of storytelling. It’s a massive opportunity.”
Nolan pointed to the sobering Unilever findings that just 2% of women in advertising are shown as intelligent, and 3% as leaders. “Brands that go against this have lot to gain in terms of standing out,” she added. Nolan also highlighted BBH’s ‘See Difference’ campaign with stock image library Unsplash, an attempt to spotlight gender stereotyping in stock imagery.
Asked whether brands tend to go for stereotyped images because they are easier for consumers to understand in a short timeframe, say a six-second digital ad, Nolan replied: “Yes they may be more ‘comfortable’, but they’re instantly forgettable. It’s not going make your brand more memorable.”
Vivian Pan, vice president and Southeast Asia head of marketing at Visa, said while progress is being made, “super brands with lots of money to spend on advertising play a really big role in influencing people,” and need to shoulder more responsibility.
She pointed to Visa being a sponsor of this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup as a marker of Visa’s commitment to promote a more progressive, inclusive agenda.