City, University of London’s Journalism Department runs surveys counting the number of expert women featured on the news.
Six flagship UK TV and radio news programmes are surveyed for five days in selected months by the EWP
Results of monitoring in 2021:
Women experts are back to the same level as 2019.
But the improvement has stalled. This is not as good as just before the pandemic.
On average in February, March and April 2021, men experts outnumbered women experts by 2.2-1.
In April, men experts dominated by nearly 3 to 1, owing to the Super League Football story.
Our surveys show that this latest data represents a game of two halves, with the best ratio of women to men experts ever recorded in March 2021, owing in part to the Sarah Everard vigil story, and the worst for 4 years in April 2021 owing mostly to the Super League story.
Over three months, February, March and April, the number of women experts used on the six flagship programmes monitored are only just back to the level of 2019, at 2.2-1, and not as good as February 2020, which was 1.9-1.
In the week sampled in February 2021 there were 2.4 men experts to every woman expert used.
In March 2021 there were 1.6 men experts to every woman expert used.
In April 2021 there were 2.9 men experts to every woman expert used.
This shows that when a story of interest to men hits the headlines, broadcasters have no qualms about letting it dominate and increasing the use of men experts. Overall the Sarah Everard vigil story, which ran over two days, had 22 women experts on the flagship programmes and 12 men, and the Super League story which ran over three days had 66 male experts and 2 women experts, a difference of 2-1. So for a male oriented sports story there is a huge dominance of men, and for female oriented story there are more women, but also a significant number of men.
There seems to be some evidence that stories deemed to be of interest to men gain more airtime, and that male experts will be used more and for longer on stories of interest to men, than female experts on stories of interest to women. Sports stories of interest predominantly to men can still dominate the news agenda.
The pandemic has certainly led to a decrease in the use of women experts. This will surprise many people who believe that there are more women experts than there used to be. This perception is probably because there have been some recurring and highly visible women scientists and health workers. But the fact is that compared to pre-pandemic 2020, women experts are not as plentiful, and that when stories which appeal to men come along, they get a higher proportion of men experts than stories of interest to women get women experts.
Despite a big improvement over the last eight years of Expert Women Project monitoring, the man expert is still the norm.
Looking back to the height of the pandemic in 2020, the use of women experts declined over the months of March, and May. This was when politicians dominated. In April, healthcare workers being interviewed led to a higher proportion of women experts on screen. But the health reporters or presenters on the six main channels was 40% female, see below:
Paul Royall, Editor, BBC News at Six and Ten, said: “We’ve seen a positive uplift of female contributors on the BBC News at Ten and, alongside City’s research, our own 50:50 Project is helping us take positive steps in the right direction. There is still, of course, more work to do and we look forward to continuing to progress.”
Sarah Sands, Editor, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, said: “Achieving a diverse range of guests is very important for Today and across the BBC we have actively been working to ensure more gender balance on air. City, University of London have held broadcasters to account for many years and we are pleased to be part of their research.”
Rachel Corp, Acting Editor of ITV News at ITN, said: “It’s great to see this report highlighting the outstanding contributions women are making to tackling the current global crisis. “The UK has a wealth of brilliant women scientists, doctors, nurses, managers and many others who have all been key to telling the story of coronavirus. At a time like this, ITV News remains as committed as ever to bringing a balance of voices into all our programmes and will continue to ensure a range of experts feature in our coverage as the story continues to evolve.” Read Rachel’s account of what it is like on the frontline of TV news and why March was such a difficult month https://expertwomenproject.com/figures/figures-and-trend/commentary-on-latest-figures/
Jane Threlfall, Output Editor, Opinion and Comment at Sky News, said: “Sky News strives to achieve an equal balance of male and female experts across all its programmes and continues to make good progress towards this goal. But it is mindful there is still work to be done!”
Cait FitzSimons, Editor of Channel 5 News, said: “As always, the research by the Expert Women team is a chance for newsrooms to reflect on the work they’ve done.
“I’m pleased to see what 5 News has achieved but it’s clear we have a long way to go.
“In a time of unprecedented pressure on news broadcasters, a commitment to improved diversity and representation – across all groups – is crucial in making sure we don’t lose focus and reverse the progress that has been made.” Read Cait’s account of why C5 News has more women experts than other programmes in our blog section https://expertwomenproject.com/blog/
Expert Women Project figures analysed by Dr Khansa Al Sabah of the Economics Department, City, University of London
NEW – The Expert Women Project goes international! Monitoring is starting in Ghana. Nana Ama Agyemang Asante and Betty Kankam-Boadu lead the project.
Read more the-ghana-project
So what does the Expert Women Project do?
The Expert Women Project now counts the number of women interviewed as experts/authority figures for a five-day working week in randomly selected months on six “flagship” UK news programmes. This provides a benchmark to compare with the data collected every month over 6 years from 2013 to 2019.
The programmes surveyed are BBC News at Ten; ITV News at Ten; the “Today” programme on BBC Radio 4; Channel 4 News; Channel 5 News and 7am to 8am on Sky News. In 2020 the project monitored women experts in February, March and April giving an insight into the way women were used as interviewees during the coronavirus crisis.
What has the Expert Women Project achieved?
It began as a campaign and became a research project, dedicated to ensuring fair representation of women as figures of authority on UK news prgrammes. In 2014 the ratio of male experts to female experts was over 4.4-1. This wasn’t fair to women. The level of female expertise in society was probably more like 2-1. Many editors agree that figures presented by the Expert Women campaign encouraged them to use more female experts. The Expert Women project ran three “Women on Air” conferences and had a lot of publicity. See background section for more information.