On March 5th 2020, Paula Orlando of Internews hosted a GFMD member-only webinar titled “Reflect Reality: Join the Global Movement to Source Women in the News”.

For more than 35 years, in more than 100 countries, Internews has worked to build healthy media and information environments where they are most needed. Gender equality is a core priority in their projects. You can find out more about Internews’ work here.

United for News, a multi-stakeholder coalition of private sector, media organisations, and NGOs committed to supporting and sustaining media around the world, led by Internews in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, has worked with its partner organisations, developing specific expertise related to building gender equality and closing the gender gap in the news. From this collaboration came United for News’ Reflect Reality, a guidebook and toolkit that includes strategies and resources, among others, for newsrooms, journalists, and business professionals to increase women’s representation in news media.

The goal of this Webinar was to present Reflect Reality to the audience while providing a walk-through of the Reflect Reality website (you can access via this link). Paula provided a basic overview of the different sections that the project consists of:

  1. The problem

According to the research “Gender Inequality in the news 1995-2005” conducted by the Global Media Monitoring Project, globally, women represent only 24% of the people we see, hear and read about in the news, and just 19% of expert sources. These rates haven’t changed in nearly two decades. The percentage varies depending on the subject: we find the highest percentages of women in personal experience roles and the lowest rates in expert or commentator roles.

  1. Challenges

Challenges such as gender bias or increased time and effort needed to find women were anticipated, but this is a much more complex issue. There are both supply-side and demand-side challenges. Other challenges discovered include: cultural constraints (women not being allowed to be in a particular setting or not allowed to speak), women turning down interview requests because they do not feel comfortable or they do not have enough training, and institutional problems, such as companies not putting women as spokespeople or reporters looking directly for CEOs, who are usually men instead of looking for other roles within the company that could be covered by a woman.

Within Reflect Reality, users can also find a Q&A of people discussing their own efforts to go the extra mile to tackle this problem, among other topics.

  1. Making the case

Here, the arguments for why it is important to have more women in the news are provided. Having more women is having a more accurate depiction of the world (hence the title Reflect Reality). To sum up:

  • It is good for journalism: looking for more diverse sources means more diverse content and angles, which is more interesting for the news and allows newsrooms to break more stories.
  • It builds trust: if people do not see themselves reflected in the news, they will lose interest. This is very important now that media is rated very low in terms of trust. People not believing in the information that they receive is a problem for democracy.
  • It is good for businesses: gender equality matters financially. It increases women’s participation in and engagement with the news, and ultimately, positively impacts the revenue of media organisations.
  • It is good for society: it is important to have successful role models and role matches who may face similar problems to girls in the audience.
  1. Core part: Strategy section

This is the largest and most detailed section of Reflect Reality. It provides tools for implementation of gender parity guidelines for newsrooms, businesses, and journalism trainers and practical insights that they received from partners.

Paula focused on the insights for news producers, which were divided into four categories. Specific interventions fall within one of four strategy categories:

  • Planning and analysis for launching key interventions in the newsroom,
  • Tracking the gender split of sources,
  • Ensuring staff buy-in for the ongoing participation of the newsroom,
  • Specific activities for cultivating sources.
  1. Pilot projects

Here you can find information about practical experiences, such as the ones carried out in Toronto and Iraq. In Canada, two leading newsrooms, The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail, implemented projects that tracked and addressed the lack of diverse sources beyond gender. Regarding the Iraq case, the 3-year-program that started last year provides, among other planned activities, training to journalists to produce gender-sensitive content and reporting and education on political and economic rights and participation.

Some key learnings they found are: leadership is important but the project must be built from the bottom to involve the entire newsroom, tracking is critical, media training must be provided to promote women in news, and that only sources that can be controlled should be counted.

  1. Resource section

Here, users can find an expert database of female voices and a sample template of the tracking mechanism that can be modified or adapted to suit the needs of different newsrooms or organisations. It includes content, sources, typologies, and other diverse voices (to include other categories of diversity, religion, ethnicity etc.). There is also a female experts’ database that can be browsed by region or industry.

The webinar wrapped up with a Q&A session. During this section, regarding the development and use of lists of women experts, Paula suggested journalists use their own informal lists of sources that they have gathered throughout their careers, as well as those of women’s organisations. It was also suggested that journalists reach out to the communications departments of various organisations to ask about the position of women in the organisation. Also addressed were concerns about the lack of data and the need for academia to develop a methodology to measure the impact of increased gender parity in the workplace in terms of engagement beyond anecdotal information. So far, there is research for the business field that claims increased gender parity leads to increased revenue. However, we do not have this kind of information for newsrooms yet.

In terms of next steps for Reflect Reality, Paula stressed the desire to keep the project moving forward, to continue receiving feedback, to expand it with partnerships and opportunities with academia and researchers, to see the initiative implemented more widely across different industries, and, in general, to keep the conversation alive and to continue making an impact in efforts to increase women’s voices in the news. As she said, once we acknowledge the gap between reality and portrayal of women in news, even very simple measures can help us to address the problem.

Lastly, GFMD’s Advocacy and Engagement Manager, Michael J. Oghia, mentioned that two of GFMD’s Working Groups (Women in Media and Research, Impact, and Knowledge Sharing) are working on topics related to this and that everyone is welcome to reach out to GFMD in case they want to collaborate or receive further information.

If you have any suggestions, do not hesitate to reach out Paula at