Women: Sit at the Table and Create the Discourse
“Because the stories we tell determine what we think about what happens, which determines which happens next.” – Katie Orenstein
When 2008 Echoing Green Fellow Katie Orenstein started The Op-Ed Project, some ten to fifteen percent of newspaper opinion pieces, or op-eds, were submitted by women. In the past few years, that number has increased by as much as seven percent. It’s an important indication of progress—and of ensuring that more voices are part of the public debate.
According to Op-Ed, between eighty to ninety percent of all submissions to the opinion essay pages in the United States come from men—usually highly educated, older, white men. Eighty-four percent of TV pundits on Sunday morning talk shows are men, along with eighty-seven percent of Wikipedia contributors, eighty-five percent of Hollywood producers, and eighty-three percent of Congress.* Public discourse in the world is literally being created by a fraction of the population.
So, the obvious solution is to increase the number of submissions by women to the op-ed pages. But how many of us actually read op-eds? Why does it matter? A published op-ed can lead to speaking engagements, appearances on television shows, guest lectures at universities, and even a call from the President. Katie’s own narrative includes opportunities to advise Clinton staffers on Latin America and a by-line across one of the largest wire services in the world—all stemming from her op-eds. Kennedy Odede, a 2010 Echoing Green Fellow, published an op-ed in the New York Times on tourism in slums. With thousands of views around the world, he has since been invited to join Sean Penn and President Clinton for a keynote at the Clinton Global Initiative U annual meeting, as a member of CGI, and has become an internationally recognized human-rights activist. If women, if minorities do not generate the discourse and establish themselves as experts with opinions that matter, how can they find influence in important conversations?
There is, of course, a deeper issue at play here. It's why there are so few women CEO's of Fortune 500 companies, and why we haven't seen an equal number of female Fellows at Echoing Green. A couple years ago, Clay Shirky shared a “rant on women” when a student asked for a recommendation. Shirky asked the student to send him a draft, one that was effusive with its compliments and certainly dismissed if Shirky himself has submitted it. He pondered, however, that he would never have received such a draft from one of his female students. Why?
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, shares it beautifully in her TEDWomen talk last year: “Women systematically underestimate their own abilities.” Men attribute their successes to themselves, while women acknowledge external factors for their accomplishments. Sheryl’s first piece of advice for women—sit at the table, own your success. Clay Shirky’s advice encourages women to say, “I can do that. Sign me up. My work is awesome.”
The Op-Ed Project’s mission: “…create a sea change in our nation’s conversation by empowering a wave of women to write op-eds, join the public discourse and encourage and refer other women to do the same—creating a multiplier effect that will alter the patterns of under-representation of women in media rolodexes and inboxes, and expand the pool of visible female talent.” Seminars are held around the country, with an expanding graduate and undergraduate program. Programs do not discriminate against men, they are, in fact, invited to participate. But, a majority number in each workshop must be women because the conversation must shift. Op-Ed wants women to pull up a chair and say—not to wait to be called on—but, to shout, I am an expert on xyz, this is my opinion, and it matters to what happens next.
*Based on 2011 figures
Katie and Courtney Martin published an op-ed today on CNN.com, entitled "How to have more Sheryl Sandbergs." Ultimately, "we can create more Sandbergs by surrounding ourselves with confident, outspoken women." Read the opinion piece in full: http://ht.ly/92K8i
Echoing Green Live
May 17, 2013 at 01:35 PM
Big Bold Benefit 2013: Celebrating Twenty-Five Years
May 20, 2013 at 09:10 PM
@VC4Africa to invest $20million in #SME's, with a focus on #impactinvesting in #socent s in #Ghana: http://t.co/T97HKGKqmr #impinv
May 18, 2013 at 02:33 PM
How do I apply for a grant?
May 20, 2013 at 04:32 PM
Celebrating 25 years! We are humbled by your support & constant drive for social...