Building a National Database of Expert Women – an End-users’ Perspective

Summary of Roundtable Discussions

December 2015



Roundtable luncheon at Osler in Toronto, October 23, 2015
Roundtable luncheon at Osler, Toronto, October 23, 2015

In the fall of 2015, Informed Opinions convened four roundtable luncheons in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver. Our guests – senior members of the news media, conference planners and recruiters [see Appendix A below for a complete list] responded to questions pertaining to the development of a new tool designed to make it easier for them to access women with considerable expertise in their fields.


We envision as a national online source and candidate recruitment tool that will feature thousands of highly qualified women with informed opinions across a wide range of fields and disciplines. All will have been vetted in advance to ensure they are ready and willing to share their knowledge with the broader public by engaging with media, speaking publicly, entertaining job offers and/or accepting board appointments.


This report summarizes the advice our roundtable participants provided in response to three framing questions:

  • In your experience (in news and information media, executive search short lists, or conference programs) what are the barriers to including more women?
  • If you were going to design the ideal database of female experts, what would it feature and include?
  • Given our goal of making it easier for those seeking experts to find more qualified women, what would be the best way to encourage journalists, conference planners, recruiters and others to use it?


The feedback summarized below will help to inform the development of


Women’s voices change conversations:

Roundtable attendees largely agreed that the conversation frequently changes when women are included because women bring different issues and perspectives to the table.

  • “I think women have a particular point of view that we don’t hear a lot”
  • “Some conversations aren’t happening in the media that could be. We need to draw on women’s insights more often”


But getting those women’s voices to air or into print is much more of a challenge:

While most media participants agreed on the importance of including women’s voices in their newspapers and on their programs, they confirmed our own research findings that women are much more likely than men to turn down interview requests.

  • “Women downplay themselves so quickly. It’s way easier to get a man to come and be an ‘expert’ than it is to get a woman.”
  • “Too often the women I reach out to say ‘sorry, I’m not the right person’. They don’t seem to understand that I’m just looking for a conversation… not a book chapter.”


Many women say they’ve previously had a bad experience with media:

  • “Many women experts have had experiences with the media that make them mistrustful of doing more.”


They feel judged more harshly than their male counterparts:

  • “Many women feel they have to be agreeable in the media or they will be critiqued.”
  • “When I did TV, people only commented on my looks and clothes, not what I said.”
  • “I’ve noticed that women who do media can be judged for being shrill, old, too pretty. They’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.”
  • “Online abuse is a massive disincentive for women wanting to participate in media.”


And they face unique time pressures:

  • “With parenting, a lot of women have two full-time jobs. They don’t see doing media as a priority.”
  • “Sometimes women will say things like ‘I can’t do an interview, I have to pick up the kids from daycare’. No man has never come back to me with that answer.”


Calling on women experts can take a lot more effort:

Limited resources and tight timelines mean journalists default to sources they know will provide them with good, reliable interviews. More often than not, that means turning to men:

  • “While we’re concerned about the lack of women’s voices on a daily basis, we’re under pressure to file quickly with great insight.”
  • “There are fewer people involved in the daily chase and it can take longer to get certain people to come on the air. When you’re on a short deadline, it’s easier to go to people you know will say yes.”
  • “We tend to use women and minorities who are well known to us, relying on the same people repeatedly.”
  • “The time factor is our biggest problem. It’s so easy to go out and get a guy. It’s a daily struggle (to find women); we’re very conscious of it, but at the end of the day, you still need someone to put on the air.”
  • “My biggest task is separating idiots from non-idiots. I haven’t spent anytime thinking (about gender[1]).”


While many media outlets strive for more diversity of sources, they aren’t counting women:

  • “Diversity in many people’s minds is no longer about gender. So if you get a guy who is not a white guy, that’s diversity. But it means that ethnic diversity is trumping gender diversity.”
  • “I never review my stories for gender balance. I just go for the best and most available people. But I guess that does tend to mean they’re populated by men.”


And while technology is changing media, the media has yet to redefine its own understanding of “expertise”:

  • “It is interesting to see that while technology and news formats have changed, the content really hasn’t in terms of who we speak to and the approach we take. Clearly we are underserving women. It’s time our numbers change.”


Building trust is key to attracting more female guests:

Many described success in recruiting new female expertise by specifically soliciting women for their context and perspective, ensuring they don’t feel alone if they’re the only female guest, and, in the case of broadcast media, doing pre-interviews to increase their comfort level.

  • “When you find a great female source, it’s important to nurture her: call her back and say ‘Wow, you were fantastic…’ That will help build trust and respect.”


Building the ideal database:

Participants unanimously expressed enthusiasm for the database, recommending that it:

  • Include a broad range of voices on a wide variety of topics;
  • Be timely, accurate and current, indicating the date when an expert’s profile page was last updated: “If we have a bad experience, it’s a setback. If the database doesn’t produce results, we’ll go somewhere else”;
  • Make clear the best way to contact each expert – eg. phone/voicemail, email, text, or messaging via social media;
  • Indicate the times of day or week when a subject won’t be available for interviews or able to respond to inquiries;
  • Include sample media interviews whenever possible [eg. audio/video clips, online/print links];
  • Include a current, downloadable photograph;
  • Indicate the expert’s language proficiencies;
  • Indicate whether the expert has access to TV and radio studios (ie. on a university campus), if she has access to a high-speed Internet connection, and whether she’s comfortable using technology like Skype or Facetime.
  • Include references to the expert’s past professional and lived experience (eg. she lived in the U.S., served in the military, etc.) to expand opportunities, usefulness;
  • Indicate any political affiliations, affiliations to lobby groups, or if her research is funded by a company with a vested interest in the outcome;
  • Be accessible through Google searches (“I think Google is most peoples’ database”).


Diversity of experts will be critical to success:

Participants also stressed the importance of including a broad variety of expert women from all walks of life, with an emphasis on those working in “non-traditional” fields (eg. engineering, mining, economics), as well as those holding expertise beyond an academic definition.

  • “We need women who can talk about everything from politics to winter tires.”
  • “Her expertise must be very specific. For example, can she talk about pension reform? Pension insolvency? Pension class action suits? How specific can she be? The database should provide macro and micro details about what she can speak about.”
  • “We cover fields like the economy and politics and there aren’t as many women in those fields. Those women are gold — they are what we really need. For example, we need women who can talk about pension reform, or who can talk about things going on at Queen’s Park.”


The database alone won’t be sufficient; dissemination is also important:

While our roundtable attendees agreed that the database would be a great tool, they were unanimous that without regular reminders, it would be too easy to forget about it. To really be effective, they suggested that should:

  • Connect regularly with media to profile experts able to comment on breaking news or current events – “but make sure those women are available all day!”
  • Send out a weekly list featuring experts who’ve been successfully placed in the media and indicating where. This would not only be incentive for women to do media, it would also remind other journalists which experts have been speaking on what subjects;
  • Use social media to connect with journalists (e.g. “send us a daily tweet profiling at least one expert; we’ll notice”);
  • Develop a rating system (like Amazon does for books), for profiled experts (eg. emphasizing an expert’s strength in print vs radio)


Encouraging the inclusion of more women’s voices in media means reaching out to others, too:

Many agreed that university media relations offices, which frequently pitch their own experts to the media, need to be making a better effort to offer up qualified women experts. A number of attendees suggested that journalism schools could be doing more to educate students on the importance of using women and diverse subjects so that they can hit the ground running when they land in newsrooms. Others called on professional organizations to do their part, suggesting that they be targeted specifically to start putting women forward to speak to the media.


Senior journalists agreed on the importance of their leadership in encouraging their teams to seek out female expertise more often:

Some suggested that they would post links to the database on their company intranet pages and offer training sessions for their employees, among other tactics:

  • “I think it is up to middle managers to be thinking about this. Going to a reporter every day and saying ‘great story, where are the women?’ will make a difference.”
  • “If it isn’t taken into account as part of the performance metrics, it won’t happen.”
  • “Journalists need to point out when women’s voices are missing in our colleagues’ work – we need to express it to our male colleagues and bosses.”
  • “I will set an email reminder in my calendar so that I’ll remember to remind my colleagues monthly.”
  • “We can’t be shy about constantly having this conversation. We have to mention it in every meeting. We have to do it so much that everyone on the ground does it naturally, instead of having the conversation high up in our newsrooms. That’s how you make change at the reporter level.”


Other ideas for promoting change included:

  • Encourage referrals: “If a woman declines an interview, its worth asking ‘can you recommend another woman who can speak on this issue?’”
  • “Devise tools that will enable women to nominate other women as experts. Women seem to be better at owning their expertise if someone else identifies it. It’s a good confidence builder”
  • Clarify the impact: “Journalists need to see powerful examples of why including women’s voices leads to better journalism.”
  • Promote the use of social media: “Women experts should be encouraged to share their ideas on social media. I can’t stress it enough – social media is how we find people. In real time. Sometimes as little as an hour and a half before we go to air.”
  • Work to discourage online abuse: “News organizations should take some responsibility for the way in which their audiences respond to women who put themselves out there to take part in a conversation.”
  • Reward good behaviour: “Perhaps this issue should be a measure in all of our journalism awards?” “We could give prizes to people particularly good at including women.”
  • Help demystify media: “We need more opportunities to pull back the veil and get women experts behind the scenes to see how our programs work. Maybe they can come to a shoot and hang with our producers.”
  • “Offer more media training opportunities for women experts.”
  • “Encourage women to take more risks and be willing to put themselves out there.”
  • “Present more opportunities for journalists and experts to meet and mingle to help build trust.”
  • Make it easy for women to say yes: “Media outlets need to provide childcare.”



Shari Graydon engaging the group in conversation at Toronto roundtable luncheon
Shari Graydon engages the group in conversation in Toronto

While will make it easier for journalists, conference planners and recruiters[2] to source female experts, this alone will be insufficient. Roundtable participants agreed on their need for relentless reminders:

  • “If we are not constantly paying attention (to this issue), it slides back. Everyone on a leadership team needs to be engaged. We need to be relentless.”
  • “Making change takes a long time.”


Many agreed that the more women see themselves represented in the media, the more inclined they will be to answer a journalist’s call. It’s also important that the public understand why this issue matters:

  • “Make sure people understand why we are doing this. Both journalists and the public need to understand what is lost when women’s voices are missing from public discourse.”
  • “Encourage the public to take some responsibility in asking to hear from women.”


News outlets should ask themselves whether they look and sound like their audiences; men can be coached to decline requests to sit on panels that don’t include women; and journalists need to understand that including more diverse voices will make their work better, even when time is tight.

  • “If you are only representing half of your community, you are not doing excellence in journalism.”
  • “We’re all crunched for time. We shouldn’t use that crutch anymore.”
  • “We need to think of this database as a starting point rather than an end point.”


Appendix A – Roundtable Participants

Participation was limited to a maximum of 20 at each roundtable luncheon. We targeted approximately 75 senior decision-makers representing a variety of media (print, radio, television and online, at both mainstream and alternative media outlets). Our goal was to assemble journalists who would have the capacity to both reflect on their current newsroom practices and influence their colleagues. The discussion also benefited from a small number of individuals in communications, recruiting and other complimentary disciplines.


Toronto – October 23, 2015

Andrea Baillie, Managing Editor, The Canadian Press

Meredith Dault, Project Manager,

Stacey Dunseath, Executive Producer, The Agenda, TVO

Kathy English, Public Editor, The Toronto Star

Kathleen Goldhar, Executive Producer, The Current, CBC

Shari Graydon, Founder, Informed Opinions

Jennifer Harwood, Managing Editor, CBC News Network

April Lindgren, Associate Professor, Ryerson School of Journalism

Shazia McCormick, Director, Culture and Inclusion, Scotiabank

Joan Melanson, Executive Producer, CBC Toronto

David Mitchell, Moderator

Colette Murphy, Executive Director, The Atkinson Foundation

Anne Marie Owens, Editor-in-Chief, The National Post

Steve Paikin, Host, The Agenda with Steve Paikin, TV Ontario

Craig Silverman, Editor, BuzzFeed Canada

Leanne Stepnow, Deputy Director of Events, The Walrus Foundation

Mark Stevenson, Editor-in-Chief, Maclean’s

Natalie Turvey, Executive Director, The Canadian Journalism Foundation

David Walmsley, Editor-in-Chief, The Globe and Mail

Gerri Woodford, Partner, Academic Practice, Odgers Berndtson


Montreal – October 30, 2015

Sophie Banford, Directrice générale, KO Média, Éditrice, magazine VÉRO

Carole Beaulieu, Rédactrice en chef et éditrice, L’actualité

Colette Brin, Professor, Dept. d’information et de communication, Université Laval

Lucinda Chodan, Editor-in-Chief, Montreal Gazette

Nathalie Collard, Journaliste, La Presse

Meredith Dault, Project Manager,

Anne-Caroline Desplanques, Journaliste, Le Journal de Montréal

Toula Drimonis, Freelance writer and broadcaster

Helen Evans, Managing editor, CBC Quebec

Line Fiset, Director, Client development and operations, Osler Montreal

Monique Jérôme-Forget, Special Advisor, Osler Montreal

Yolande Garant, Formatrice en communication et administration au Nunavik, contrats du Cégep Marie-Victorin

Shari Graydon, Founder, Informed Opinions

Isabelle Hudon, Executive Chair, Quebec, Senior Vice-President, Client Solutions, Sun Life Financial

Maya Johnson, Reporter, CTV

Linda Kay, Journalism Professor, Concordia University

Sophie Laforest, recherchiste, Radio-Canada

Sophie Langlois, directrice principale, Bureau des communications et des relations publiques, Université de Montréal

Judith Lussier, chroniqueuse, Journal Métro

Lise Millette, Journaliste et Présidente de la Fédération Professionelle des Journalistes du Québec

Julie Miville-Dechêne, Présidente, Conseil du statut de la femme

Pascale Navarro, auteure et journaliste

Francine Pelletier, Journalist and documentary filmmaker


Ottawa – November 13, 2015

James Baxter, Editor and Publisher, iPolitics

Keith Bonnell, Editor-in-Chief, Ottawa Sun

Jacques Bourbeau, Ottawa Bureau Chief, Global National

Claudia Cautillo, Assignment Editor and Reporter, CTV Ottawa

Meredith Dault, Project Manager,

Paul Davidson, President and CEO, Universities Canada

Shari Graydon, Founder, Informed Opinions

Kate Heartfield, Editorial pages editor and columnist, Ottawa Citizen

Karla Hilton, Senior Producer, Ottawa Morning, CBC

Philippe Marcoux, Host, Les matins d’ici, Radio-Canada

David McKie, Investigative Producer, Power and Politics, CBC

David Mitchell, moderator

Pierre Normand, VP External Relations and Communications, Canada Foundation for Innovation

Laura Payton, Senior writer, Maclean’s

Steve Rennie, Managing Editor, Metro Ottawa

Heather Scoffield, Ottawa Bureau Chief, The Canadian Press

Lynn Stoudt, Vice-President, Leadership and Human Resources Research,

The Conference Board of Canada

Donna White, Ottawa Managing Partner, Osler

Ruth Zowdu, Executive Producer, Radio Current Affairs, CBC


Vancouver – December 10, 2015

Sarah Berman, Managing Editor, The Tyee

Daphne Bramham, Columnist, Vancouver Sun

Wendy Cox, British Columbia and Alberta Editor, The Globe and Mail

Susan Danard, Managing Director, Public Affairs, University of British Columbia

Meredith Dault, Project Manager,

Charmaine de Silva, Assistant News Director, CKNW

Jesse Ferreras, Associate News Editor, British Columbia, Huffington Post

Tracey Friesen, Director of Programming, Roundhouse Radio

Dan Getz, Executive Producer, CBC News Network

Shari Graydon, Founder, Informed Opinions

David Mitchell, moderator

Wayne Moriarty, Editor-in-Chief, The Province

Harold Munro, Editor-in-Chief, Vancouver Sun

Rachel Nixon, Digital News Executive

Sarah Temple, Executive Director, Communications and Marketing, Simon Fraser University

Terri Theodore, Vancouver News Editor, The Canadian Press

Wayne Williams, News Director, CBC Vancouver



[1] Some participants also acknowledged that that many now recognize more than two genders.

[2] Although the voices of conference planners and recruiters are not present in this report, we are conducting selected in-depth interviews to solicit additional feedback relevant to their contexts.