Gail Collins responds to the OpEd Project’s Byline Survey in an Interview with Poytner

As a senior at Barnard College, it was thrilling to see Gail Collins, the Times’ first female editorial page editor and author of two books on women’s history, respond the results of the Byline survey I conducted from October-December 2010. The survey is one of many attempts to identify and understand the absence of women in positions of thought leadership, including this recent study of magazine and review journals from VIDA.

The results of the OpEd Project’s Byline Survey found that legacy print publications such as The New York Times, and The Washington Post tend to feature the fewest female voices, hovering around 15-20%. In an interview with Mallary Jean Tenore on Poynter.org, Collins spoke about the causes behind the opinion page gender gap, and how the New York Times has worked minimize it.

“This is an issue we’ve been struggling with for years,” Collins said. “Back when I was editor, we had several meetings and studies to try to figure out why women’s voices were underrepresented in the Times opinion pages.”

Collins believes the disparity boils down to the fact that “women don’t put their hands up as often as men.” Submissions to the New York Times support her claim: men author an overwhelming majority of unsolicited op-ed pieces and letters to the editor. Other newspapers and media organizations that completed similar surveys, including the Washington Post, found the same results.

Additionally, Collins says that when women do contribute, they tend to focus on issues such as education and children. The data I gathered in the Byline Survey supports this claim. Of all the female-authored op-eds surveyed in both print and online media sources, the majority were on “pink” topics such as female voters, female health issues, and childcare. It seems that even as more women begin to contribute to opinion forums, diversity in expertise is broadening at a slower rate.

The lack of female contributors is not a problem limited to journalism. Opinion forums inform other media and drive policy and thought leadership in every field. Regardless of the causes, the numbers consistently prove change needs to come.

The OpEd Project is working to expand the range of voices submitting. But how can news organizations make a difference from the top down? The Times has now hired a new female op-ed editor, Trish Hall, who just started two weeks ago. It will be interesting to see if this makes a difference for the gender ratio on the Times opinion page in the coming year.

The full text of the interview with Collins can be read here.

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