Informed Opinions was founded as a project for the national non-profit Media Action. According to their mandate, it “seeks to bridge the gender gap in Canadian public discourse by 2025.” They hope to do this by working “to ensure diverse women’s perspectives and priorities are equitably integrated into Canadian society.”
Shari Graydon, founder of Informed Opinions, explained in an email interview with The Peak that a team of computing engineers and computation linguists at SFU helped create the tracker by using existing programs to gather data from various news organizations’ websites, and then identifying the genders of people quoted in articles “using various language processing tools.”
The results show that “men’s voices outnumber women’s by a ratio of almost three to one.”
Graydon said that while part of this discrepancy is due to the fact that more men have held higher positions for longer and are therefore more well-known, “part of it is that women have absorbed social and cultural messages suggesting that their opinions are less valued than men’s.” She also noted that women are held to much higher standards than men and are more likely to be criticized or attacked.
“So they think they have to be the best, most knowledgeable person to comment. Most men don’t feel similarly encumbered,” she added.
SFU professor Maite Taboda, whose research team significantly helped in the development of the tool, said to SFU News that the Gender Gap Tracker will “provide invaluable data for any researcher interested in news media.”
Graydon said that news media is incredibly influential in the sense that “the issues they call attention to and the perspectives they amplify are more likely to set agendas,” and therefore “people whose views are chronically under-represented will exercise much less influence.”
“Journalism and equitable representation both play essential roles in democracy. Men being quoted 75% of the time is fundamentally undemocratic.”
When asked what news sources can do to decrease the gap, Graydon responded that “anecdotal evidence suggests that journalists who actively track the gender ratio of their sources do a better job of incorporating women’s perspectives.”
For the future, Graydon said that Informed Opinions “will continue to train and motivate expert women to write op-eds and say ‘yes’ to media interviews.” She also noted that they are constantly adding new women to their database of experts “to make it easier for journalists to find diverse qualified sources.”