The gender gap has been a hot topic this past year across industries, but especially in media. Reporters in major newsrooms began taking an empirical look at who they quote and rely on for the information that shapes their coverage – and, more importantly, who they don’t quote.
Industry-wide researchers found quoted experts still skew predominantly male by a margin of 3:1. In response, many reporters are actively seeking out women who are experts in their fields to provide a diversity of perspectives.
Sourcing from a large group of experts also gives reporters the opportunity to discover a wider array of issues, and, dare I say, make their columns more interesting. I find the entire initiative both frustrating and encouraging, but I think there’s an important role for public relations firms and internal communication teams to play.
So, how can we be part of the solution?
First, companies, especially tech companies, should take a hard look at who they offer to media as experts. Are you defaulting to the male CEO? Or are you offering the person who is the most knowledgeable subject matter expert in your organization?
I often see companies default interview offers to their predominantly male leaders, when I’ve interacted with a variety of knowledgeable internal team members who could provide valuable perspective. I’ve even seen an internal female technical expert ghostwrite a guest post for a more senior male team member. Not only does this erase her name from the credit, but it also builds the expertise for the person she wrote for.
It’s important that co-authoring be accepted by publications and that C-level execs defer opportunities to those who deserve the credit. This would go a long way in addressing systematic inequality in knowledge credit.
As media relations professionals, our team also plays a role in encouraging clients to take a careful look at broadening their list of spokespeople. There are more men named John than women in total as CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies. When a company is tightly controlling its public-facing leadership, it can also end up silencing VP and Senior Directors from media opportunities – where many of the company’s top women live.
Media relationships and the opportunity to be quoted can be stepping stones to higher positions, so developing a media presence is a crucial leadership skill in the long run. More companies should err toward media training all upper management, helping these leaders pursue media opportunities in their area of expertise.
The last piece of the puzzle is encouraging and supporting team members in their pursuit of speaking opportunities, whether in local trade groups or on major conference stages. When team members participate in these events, they promote the credibility of their company and they may even be noticed by media members.
It’s an empowering experience to be viewed as an expert by your peers and it opens the door to having your expertise recognized broadly in the press.
I’m lucky enough to work for a group of women executives who get the quote all the time. But, that’s exceedingly rare. If both reporters and media relations teams actively sought out and encouraged more diverse spokespeople, then we could collectively accelerate the voices that influence the tech industry and work to close the gender gap.
Who will you offer as your company’s expert when the next opportunity comes around?