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How Bloomberg is building a global database of expert women sources

March 12, 2020 | By Caitlin Kelly, Independent Journalist @CaitlinKellyNYC

It’s not a new problem. However, it is a widespread and persistent one for anyone working in media: the need to efficiently ensure diversity of sources. One specific issue is finding and retaining expert women sources to inform stories and provide deep analysis. VIDA has kept track of women’s voices in the media since 2010. Yet, it remains an ongoing challenge to consistently diversify the voices we consider authoritative.

Several media organizations have begun to focus their attention on the issue, including NPR, The Financial Times, the BBC, The Atlantic, and The New York Times. Bloomberg L.P. has decided to tackle the issue head on with its own unusual venture.

Identifying a gap

An internal review in 2017 across Bloomberg’s company’s print, radio, and television reports found that only 10% of sources were female. And, in January 2018, a newsroom survey found a database of only 500 female sources. Thus, the same ones turned up again and again in its coverage. Today, the company had 5,500 expert women’s names on file.

In an effort to fill the need for better gender representation in its coverage, the company launched the New Voices initiative, which aims to build the definitive global database of women newsmakers in business and finance. To do so, it identifies and provides media training for top women working in business and finance, and then adds them to its database to create a larger pool of sources for Bloomberg reporters.

No quick fix

Laura Zelenko, Bloomberg News Senior Executive Editor for Diversity, Talent, Standards and Training, has been with the company since 1993. She has focused on diversity efforts since 2017 and knows the company’s culture and history well. She also realizes that institutional change within Bloomberg – even as successful as this has been so far – is rarely quick or easy.

“We had to jostle expectations. It’s what they should be doing,” she said. “Once women speak up, they realize how important it is to amplify their voices, not only for their careers, but as a role model. We’re at a moment in history that’s a time for women to amplify their voices.”

“We were looking at gender and diversity in our workforce and in our content, but the initiatives hadn’t really stuck. So, we took a hard look at the numbers [of women sources],” she said. “They were much lower than we expected, even on our top stories. Over the years, like other media organizations, we’ve tried to improve our representation of women in fits and starts. So, we asked ‘What can we do to change this fundamentally – and keep it changed?’”

Developing resources

The solution? Hand-pick top women, relying on self-selection and their firms’ suggestions, and offer them media training, paid for by Bloomberg and conducted in major cities worldwide. The effort began in New York, Toronto and London in 2018, spreading to San Francisco, Sydney, Mumbai and Dubai – “all programming hubs for us,” Zelenko explained. The company plans to add D.C. and Singapore in 2020.

“We were hearing from a number of women in the finance industry and financial markets that they were uncomfortable being interviewed,” Zelenko said. They weren’t confident about going on TV because they hadn’t had enough media training” within their own firms. They also found that, the more senior a female executive, the more she has to lose if she makes a media misstep – both for herself and for her firm.

Bloomberg provides one-day workshops which are four hours long, offered to 12 women each time, and given by a local partner in each city, not by Bloomberg staff. “This has really helped drive the initiative forward, “ she said. “We now have women as 23% of our television sources, though that’s still very low. It’s not where we want to end up, but it’s a start.”

Facilitating balance

Bloomberg managers are now accountable for their staff using the database of women sources, which is easily searchable by name, title, areas of specialty and location. Reporters can also add to the database themselves. “We wanted to add tracking tools so whenever a woman is quoted in a story as an expert source, we can see this by reporter, team, and location,” Zelenko said.

The program may expand further, globally, she said. “I very much hope we can go into Johannesburg, Sao Paulo, and China but there’s not enough programming there yet. I know that there’s interest.”

Encouraging reporters to massively expand their go-to source list can be challenging, Zelenko said. “I sit down with senior managers regularly to discuss it. That messaging takes a lot of work and example and repetition. I would say it’s been an evolution. This is work. This is hard work! You just have to keep your foot on the gas. But we’re in a really good place right now.” 

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