Why a Gender Content Audit?
A few weeks ago, journalist Ed Yong documented his attempt to address the gender imbalance in his writing for The Atlantic. He noticed that in 2016, only 24% of his sources were women and 35% featured no women's voices at all. Once he started to pay attention to the lack of women in his writing, by tracking it on a spreadsheet, he was able to remedy the imbalance: after just four months, he had reached near gender parity in his sources and quotes. He also discovered that the prevailing skepticism about the ease and accessibility of finding women experts was inaccurate. Once he started to be intentional about it, women experts were readily identifiable.
Yong recognized that gender biases are replicated and perpetuated in media. It matters that men are more often named as experts and that their voices are more often heard in the content we consume. Journalists and content producers carry some of the responsibility for ensuring their gender biases do not seep into the way they structure and research their work, and for what they put out into the world. This is particularly important in light of the recent revelations that media companies are not always welcome places for women to work, and that the gender biases held by individuals and organizations can have multitude kinds of impact. We are in an important cultural moment where there is momentum to examine all dimensions of gender discrimination, from the pay gap to sexual harassment to representation and stereotypes in media production and content.
In the fall of 2017, IFEX, a network of organizations that works to defend and promote freedom of expression, undertook a more comprehensive type of review: a gender audit. IFEX produces original content and aggregates information about freedom of expression from multiple platforms and grassroots organizations. Over the course of several months, I worked as a consultant with IFEX staff to understand how the organization represents gender and sexual diversity in its production and public facing content, to identify the gaps, and to figure out how those gaps could be addressed. I also looked at who produces their content, and how those content producers understood gender and sexual diversity issues. And I looked at how those who read IFEX articles understand the organization's approaches to gender issues, to explore the possibility of a gap between the intention and the uptake of the messaging that IFEX shares with its audience.
The results of the audit demonstrate that IFEX is already being thoughtful about gender issues. That aligns with the organization's interest in commissioning a gender audit; many organizations don't consider the way gender impacts their work or content. It also indicated areas for improvement, especially when it came to improving gender disaggregated data, and increasing the capacity of content producers to understand how gender and sexual diversity issues linked to their work. The audit allowed me to make concrete recommendations, and it also serves as a baseline against which IFEX can measure their progress. One of the recommendations was to run the same audit every three years, to track how things are improving.
Gender audit tools are not, in and of themselves, a magic bullet. This kind of tool provides a clear and effective way of generating a digestible snapshot about how an organization is performing on set gender metrics, and in an ideal world, it is accompanied by a longer, more engaged process of exploring personal biases and understanding organizational culture, and supporting content producers to generate both the political will and depth of knowledge to produce content that is deeply reflective of gender equal values.
This audit supports IFEX's broader strategy of work to ensure gender and sexual diversity is prioritized throughout the organization. The results were shared with the content producers, and the recommendations will now be driven forward by a senior leadership that is both enthusiastic and dedicated to making gender equality a priority.
In light of International Women's Day, it is time to re-think the status quo and understand the ways in which gender inequality pervades so much of how we think and what we produce. Gender audit tools can be adapted to all sorts of contexts, organizations and media. But they are just one small part of a much bigger toolbox needed to address deeply rooted inequalities in our culture.
Chloe Safier (chloesafier.com) is an associate at Gender at Work, which has developed a framework and approach that looks at gender and institutional change from a holistic perspective. This approach looks not just at formal policies, but also the informal norms, biases and consciousness that contribute to how women are included and portrayed.