Steve Paikin, Binders Full of Women, Women in STEM, Women in Leadership, TechGirls Canada

Dear Steve

“Where, oh where, are all the female guests?” laments Steve Paikin.

Paikin, host of TVO’s The Agenda, recently posted a blog on The Inside Agenda outlining the show’s issues landing female guests, raising key questions indicative of much larger issues.

The Agenda features lively debate amongst 4-5 panelists on various subjects, ranging from economics to foreign affairs, politics to the sciences. And in each of these subject areas—and others, notes Paikin—the vast majority of those willing to position themselves as authorities are men.

“In [the] ‘Binders Full of Women’ program we did, we learned some of the reasons why it’s so hard to find female guests. For example, if we’re doing a debate on economics, 90% of economists are men. So you’re already finishing in a lake where the odds are stacked against you,” pens Paikin.

According to the blog, the goal in booking guests is gender parity. But, before citing some controversial excuses from women who have declined to appear on the show, Paikin writes that the production team’s numerous efforts to increase female representation have proved rather fruitless, no matter the subject matter.

So, where are all the women?

Steve, we ask the same question in our world and we’re searching for answers. But we do know a few things that may help shed light on your question:

      1. The ratio of women to men in positions of power greatly diminishes as you go up the ladder. This, in turn, contributes to women feeling less empowered to raise their hands as authorities.

2. They’re under-represented in the media, and the numbers are going down: 2013 marked the smallest number of film speaking roles for women in five years.

3. There’s a lack of visible female role models across the board in various industries, posing barriers to young women who want to enter these fields.

4. Being the sole voice for your gender can be hard, particularly when approaches differ—this is especially prevalent in matters of debate where women are labeled far more pejoratively than men for being strongly opinionated.

5. Women arguably feel (and are made to feel) a strong sense of responsibility in family matters—sadly, no, we still can’t have it all.

These issues are real. Yes, sadly, in 2014 they’re still prevalent.

When you think about role models, who comes to mind? We look to people like Amanda Lang of the Lang and O’Leary exchange. She’s smart, tough, and she can talk sense in the midst of O’Leary’s rapid-fire theories.

And yet, she’s noticed largely in part for her good looks.

Where does the problem lie? The media has a role to play, certainly. In this article, for example, Lang is introduced to the audience by her “bright-pink-painted lips.”

(And, of course, who could forget the famous Hillary Clinton quote on the clothing she wears, or her rationale for the answer—you tell ‘em, Hillary!)

But this is just one part of it. For women, no matter what industry, there are complex challenges we face every day in our careers. We fight battles, both internally and externally, that prevent us from reaching our full potential.

Is it right? No. But these are the reasons why so few women find themselves in positions of power.
We argue that there are many women out there who deserve the opportunity to be recognized, and need to feel empowered to raise their hands. We started Portraits of Strength as a way of bringing to light female role models in STEM to encourage more women to speak up, and it’s working. All it takes is a single catalyst for change.

So, to Steve Paikin’s point, what do we do? How do we get more women to recognize their potential and identify themselves as leaders? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, or tweet us at @TechGirlsCan.

P.S. For those interested in raising their hands, Women’s Media Center is a great resource.