Special Features

The 50:50 challenge - tackling the gender imbalance in financial journalism

Rozi Jones
|
18th April 2019
gender balance women equal
"In the month prior to our call for support from PR and media relation teams, the number of women featured on the site averaged 23% - nowhere near equal."

As signatories of the Women in Finance Charter and founders of the Women’s Recognition Awards, Financial Reporter strives to support gender equality across financial services, including within our own reporting.

We try to ensure that all of our news is as fair and balanced as possible, but recent articles from the BBC and The Atlantic surrounding equal gender representation prompted us to make active strides in tackling any gender bias within our own articles.

While we are committed to using the best sources and commentators in the industry - regardless of gender - we don’t receive as many comments from female experts on some of the biggest topics that we cover.

I decided to send an email to a number of PR firms as well as the media relations teams of firms we cover regularly on the site, asking them to help us in our goal of achieving a 50:50 split of male and female commentary on Financial Reporter.

Some firms - including two 'Big Six' lenders - immediately supported the initiative and arranged to provide content such as features, interviews and comments from women in their senior team.

A number of other respondents reacted positively, with the media relations manager of one bank adding that the message was a "really good reminder about who we should be putting up for comments and thinking about the balance of spokespeople".

While it could be argued that it doesn’t count as true equality if journalists are having to actively source women for their reporting while dozens of comments are being sent straight through to their inbox on behalf of men, we felt that any extra effort would be worth it to improve the quality of our articles.

In order to assess whether or not we were making progress, we spent some weeks measuring the balance of male and female comments, features and blogs we received and published in recent months. In the month prior to our call for support from PR and media relation teams, the number of women featured on the site averaged 23% - nowhere near equal.

I looked forward to my next big, inbox-filling story - usually a house price index or other national statistics - to see two things. Firstly, to see if we had prompted our contacts to seek new spokespeople, and secondly to see if I could consciously choose sources which would help us improve our average figure. Last week, the ONS house price index, inflation figures and UK Finance statistics were all released on the same morning and, as expected, a slew of emails arrived in my inbox promising comment and insights from across the industry. However, out of more than 50 comments we received, not a single one was from a female spokesperson.

Of course, I wasn't expecting change overnight and I know that many companies use the same experts for all of their comments, so finding someone new would take effort on their part. However, this was a particularly dispiriting sign that there is much work to be done to ensure gender equality in financial services - and that much of it will come from within companies themselves, particularly in an industry that is still extremely male dominated at an executive level.

But I know there are plenty of women and BAME experts in our industry and it's vital that our opinion pieces and comments feature an accurate representation of our readership and the wider industry.

In a speech given by Bank of England governor Mark Carney in 2017 he acknowledged the benefits of a balanced workforce, stating that "homogenous groups that pay insufficient attention to minority views are vulnerable to biases, groupthink and over optimism".

He added that an unbalanced group is more likely to be influenced by the way information is presented and can also fall foul of the ‘curse of knowledge’. This cognitive bias, Carney said, occurs "when people assume that their audience has the same background information and base level of understanding as themselves".

Carney concluded that "we need alternative perspectives to craft our messages so that they make sense and resonate with more people".

As a news publication, this is at the heart of what we do. By getting opinion from a wide cross-section of the industry, we are better able to ensure unbiased and fair reporting as well as giving you a true representation of the industry.

As Ed Yong said in his piece for The Atlantic: "I don’t buy that journalism should act simply as society’s mirror. Yes, it tells us about the world as it is, but it also pushes us toward a world that could be. It is about speaking truth to power, giving voice to the voiceless. And it is a profession that actively benefits from seeking out fresh perspectives and voices, instead of simply asking the same small cadre of well-trod names for their opinions."

We still have a long way to go, but by being conscious of any inequality and actively campaigning for a wider range of contributors to the site, we are one step closer to tackling the gender imbalance in financial journalism.

Related articles
More from Special Features