Experts Weigh In: Women Also Know Stuff

Experts Weigh In: Women Also Know Stuff
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In Rolling Stone, Kate Spencer wrote "It's OK to Care About Gender in This Election." Spencer argues that it is important to her that women occupy political office, and so it is reasonable to take a candidate's gender into account. She points to research suggesting that women legislators enact different types of policies than do men.

There is another important reason why someone might want to see women in positions of authority: something known as "the role model effect." Witnessing someone "like you" engaging in politics can be an important motivator to get involved yourself. Political scientists David Campbell and Christina Wolbrecht have shown that that the presence of female candidates tends to coincide with an increase of interest in political participation among young women.

We care about gender in this election, too - but not only when it comes to the candidates themselves.

As this campaign season has gone on (and on and on), the experts, as they say, have "weighed in" on everything from Trump skipping a debate, to his political ads, to his visit to Vermont, and from Clinton's race with Sanders, to her campaign strategy, to her chances of winning against her once-unlikely rival.

Every day in newspapers across the country, it seems, experts weigh in.

And more often than not, these experts are men.

We took a look at every New York Times article about the election that mentioned a political scientist starting from the day the first candidate was formally announced (Ted Cruz on March 23, 2015) until the first caucus of the season (February 1, 2016). The Times mentioned 182 political scientists -- and 80% of them were men.

This pattern is not unique to political scientists. As Christina Asquith writes, on cable and Sunday news shows aired in 2015, 80% of expert guests booked to discuss foreign policy and national security were men.

Similarly, the OpEd Project analyzed 7,000 articles published both by old media (e.g. Wall Street Journal), new media (e.g. Huffington Post), and student newspapers. Across all media, the majority of op-eds were written by men. Notably, op-ed authorship by women appears to be increasing -- but topics like the economy and national politics remain male-dominated.

This underrepresentation of women experts in politics matters.

First, we know from other areas of research that including women brings with it tangible benefits. Retail businesses that are gender-diverse have 14% higher average revenue than less-diverse businesses. Businesses in the hospitality industry that are gender-diverse show 19% higher average profits than those that are less-diverse. These findings have been shown in many settings many times over, including in numerous studies compiled by the Harvard Business Review.

Second, the absence of women as experts in the media and in other public forums (panels, symposia) reinforces stereotypes about appropriate roles for women, as well as stereotypes about who is knowledgeable and respected. Female academics can serve as "role models" for the sorts of careers and skills that women are capable of achieving, but only if they are visible to the public.

In the field of political science, gains for women - according to a recent report by the American Political Science Association - have been "small and glacial in their pace of improvement." Not only are women overlooked in popular media but so too are they under-cited in academic writing.

To be clear, we know of neither anecdotes nor evidence to suggest that active sexism is responsible for these problems. To the contrary, we find that both men and women in academia and in the media often express their genuine concern for issues of equality. But these people are also very busy and, when a deadline looms, the most efficient strategy is to call the experts that most quickly come to mind. Often, those experts tend to be men.

If this reliance on male experts is due to busy people returning to familiar sources of expertise over and over again, changing the gender balance of experts may be as simple as giving people a resource that makes experts easier to find. As a result, we decided to tackle this big problem using a straightforward solution.

We created a website that lists women in political science by area of expertise and we invite scholars to add their names. We are reaching out to women from diverse backgrounds to ensure that different perspectives are included in the expert analysis of political phenomena. Our website - titled Women Also Know Stuff - has been live for only a month and already our database includes nearly 1,000 political scientists with expertise in over 80 areas. In this short time, our site has been viewed 75,000 times by 20,000 unique visitors.

Our goal is to provide an easily accessible database of women experts to reduce the costs of finding a diverse set of voices.

This week, Women Also Know Stuff moved to a new, more functional site. Scholars are now searchable by name, area of expertise, geographical area, or university affiliation. We invite you to check it out, to share it with your colleagues, and to encourage women who you think should be part of this website to become a listed expert.

Our database does not address other, equally important, issues of diversity. Political scientists who are racial minorities, for example, are underrepresented in public engagement, and women are underrepresented in many fields beyond political science. We hope that the model we are providing can become a template for others hoping to tackle similar obstacles and we are in fact working on a "how-to" guide to help scholars in other fields create similar resources.

We've already begun to make progress. We have heard from female scholars who have been contacted by journalists to weigh in on issues - and who have been informed that they were identified on Women Also Know Stuff. We have received notes of thanks from reporters and journalists themselves, often acknowledging that their rolodexes simply contained no women until now. We are getting emails from scholars - both men and women - who are now using this database to jog their memories when they are looking for panel participants, guest lecturers, and scholars whose research they can cite in their own work and in their syllabi.

As academics, few opportunities are more fulfilling than applying our expertise to what is going on in the real world and exposing our ideas to public scrutiny. We hope that this ongoing endeavor will help to diversify the perspectives shared in public discourse.

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