Make Yourself Heard: Choose to Challenge the Gender Say Gap

Posted on March 8, 2021 by Claire Mason

This International Women’s Day, I Choose to Challenge the Gender Say Gap. The Gender Say Gap is a term I coined to highlight the invisibility of women and diverse leaders in business and in public life.

Women are disproportionately the experts in the room. We are more likely to have a degree and to work in a high status profession - so why aren’t we hearing from female authority figures?

When you look at subject matter experts women are still outnumbered 4-1 as keynote conference speakers and up to 5-1 as expert contributors in the media. 

Three years ago I started speaking out about the Gender Say Gap and calling for Say Equality in the experts who represent us. After the the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, I was hopeful that the powerful legacy of movements like #MeToo, and more recently #BlackLivesMatter, could bring about powerful change.

But over the last year, in the wake of the global pandemic, the lack of female and diverse expert voices has been a reminder of how far we have yet to go.

As Covid-19 was in large part a crisis in public health - an area where women and professionals from a BAME background are overrepresented - we might have expected to hear from a diversity of experts. But the media still turned overwhelmingly to white men as figures of medical and social authority, falling into a pattern of consulting male experts on matters of policy and strategy, and frontline female and BAME contributors on the practical implications. 

We can’t simply blame the media. Organisations have a responsibility to provide a diversity of experts. City University’s excellent Expert Women Project found that a key driver of the widening Gender Say Gap in the UK is the lack of female Ministers running departments. Journalists keen to promote diversity have complained that prior to last December, a remarkable 6 months of Government Covid Briefings were led exclusively by men. This is not only driving a Gender Say Gap of up to 5:1 on flagship news programmes, it is normalising lack of representation of women in authority. Business can play a key role in bridging the Gender Say Gap by providing more women and diverse experts to ensure greater balance.  

Not hearing from expert female and diverse leaders means we’re only getting half the story - which leaves us facing the consequences of huge gaps in information, representation and policy. 

As we seek to attract more diverse talent into sectors where women and diverse professionals are underrepresented, we must shine a brighter spotlight on role models.

The next generation can’t be what they can’t see, we must demand Say Equality and ensure our ideas and voices are heard.  

I Choose To Challenge:

  • Organisations to nurture a talent pipeline of diverse spokespeople to represent them. From business to Government, our leaders should reflect a diversity of thinking.
  • Media to seek out expert spokespeople who represent the rich diversity of our society.
  • You as individuals to step forward and have your say.

So I’m excited to share our new BBC Masterclass “Make Yourself Heard” - in which we share how you can find your voice and beat the Gender Say Gap. You can watch the masterclass here.

As part of the BBC News 100 Women Programme, this masterclass shares more about the Gender Say Gap and how to have your say. I was honored to kick off the debate followed by a roundtable chaired by the BBC’s Nuala McGovern featuring the truly inspiring Deepa Narayan, Alma Arzate and Enam Asiama. 

Choose to Challenge - and together we can close the Gender Say Gap.


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