The BBC has launched an “expert women database” and a related YouTube channel to try to get more female sources on air.
Emma Barnett writes that the database features the names of 60 women who attended BBC Academy’s “Expert Women” training days, as well as contact information for 120 women who “showed promise” in their BBC Academy applications.
More than 2,000 women applied for the first training day, and only 30 spots were available. During the training, women received voice coaching tips and talked about their areas of expertise. The BBC Expert Women YouTube channel features some of these talks.
Barnett says it hasn’t been easy getting more female subject matter experts on air.
When trade magazine Broadcast launched an ‘Expert Women’ campaign in 2012 to try and boost the number of women in heavyweight roles on screen, the BBC refused to sign its pledge, despite BSkyB and Channel 4 News immediately doing so.
A BBC spokesman said the corporation was “sympathetic to the aims of the Broadcast pledge” but the licence fee means it is unable to endorse campaigns.
There are a few other databases aimed at helping journalists find female experts — HerSay, the Women’s Room and the Women Media Center’s SheSource, which features about 650 experts. Other initiatives include the Op-Ed Project, an organization that reaches out to female and minority experts and encourages them to cultivate and share their ideas with the public.
News organizations have long been criticized for not featuring more female writers in op-eds. Catherine Orenstein, founder of the Op-Ed Project, has told Poynter that the issue isn’t so much that news organizations aren’t featuring female writers; it’s that female writers aren’t stepping up and sharing their ideas.
In 2011, The New York Times’ Gail Collins told Poynter: “One thing that’s been consistently true is that women don’t put their hands up as often as men.”
To make progress, it seems we need to take a two-pronged approach: Provide women with more ways to show their expertise, and give journalists resources for diversifying their sources.