Just the Facts, Ma’am

A New Gender Gap Tracker Will Reveal Some Hard Truths

Why It Matters

It’s no longer enough to pay lip service to diversity—meaningful measures to track, weigh, and address inequities are happening all around us. Here we look at an example in news media and its parallels. How the world of impact in Canada applies measurement and transparency to its work will become a larger, looming question in 2019.

In our 2019 Bold Ideas series, we talked about intersectionality in the world of impact. A central tenet to addressing imbalances in our organizations and our work is about shifting the power. A new tool to address inequities in public discourse, offers further insights.

The first of its kind Gender Gap Tracker, which debuted on February 4, measures data in real time to motivate news outlets to more equitably reflect women’s voices. The initiative is the work of Simon Fraser University and Informed Opinions, a charitable project of Media Action. Like the SDGs, Informed Opinions has a hard deadline to achieve gender balance by 2025, but how do you know that you’ve hit the goal on something loosey-goosey like “gender balance”?

Informed Opinions released a gender gap tracker. What does it mean for the world of impact?
First, you research, find out where you’re at, and set the baseline. Informed Opinions’ research shows Canadian media voices are dominantly male—71 percent versus 29 percent. That means men are quoted much more often on major news platforms in Canada, their voices and views being privileged in the discourse.

 

HOW IT WORKS

Using data analytics and text data mining, the tool measures voices quoted in various major news sources, including the Globe and Mail, CTV, CBC, and other major players. Thus far, it measures gender as binary—male, female—and there is an “unknown” section, where gender identification is unclear or unavailable. A further iteration, could perhaps uncover even less heard voices, such as those with a different gender identity than M/F.

 

WHAT IT MEANS

Emerging technology can be used to actually measure inclusion and provide measurable and, thus, actionable data around issues where we want to “move the needle.” Data tools such as this can uncover blind spots and reveal gaps more distinctly and over periods of time, thus providing a baseline and historical perspective from which to improve upon.

More options are coming. A team at Duke University is working on a live fact-checking tool that would provide pop-up data during television news. This may put more pressure on networks to vet sources and corroborate commentary thoroughly.

External sources such as Duke or Informed Opinions looking at the work of news media serves the role of an official opposition or critical friend in that these tools shine a light on existing practices with hard data that can be telling, even uncomfortable.

With the gender gap tracker, visitors can select date ranges and/or specific news outlets to see the percentage of men versus women sources quoted online and also view the aggregate average. With this level of sophisticated scrutiny, hard truths are likely to be illustrated, thus serving an advocacy role to push for change.

As data tech becomes more mainstream and accessible, what might be better tracked and noted in the world of impact? Social justice organizations could measure work on equity and inclusion, thus providing transparency that is verifiable, scrutable, and informed.