Monday, June 11, 2012

Why Women Pitch Less In Some Fields of Journalism

This story (which I wrote about earlier) got me thinking about various reasons why women might pitch fewer stories in certain fields of journalism than men.  Possible theories abound, of course, from essentialist arguments to the impact of culture and upbringing.

But one which might not occur to you right away is the impact of expectations.  For instance, if 80% of those who write on economics are men, might it not be possible for a woman to feel (on some unconscious level) that the probability of a randomly selected male economics journalist to get published is 0.8 but that the similar probability for a female economics journalist is only 0.2 (based on the 20% figure among those published)?

That wouldn't be the correct way to think about the odds.  Still, if a certain field has many more men than women a feeling like that could be created.

Or put in other terms,  how do our unconscious thoughts explain the scarcity of women in some field?
Might they account for it by assuming that the bar is raised quite high for women?  Or  that whatever ideas and thoughts women themselves might have obviously cannot be good enough, given the small numbers of women that do get published?

I started thinking about this based on conversations where others argued that women hold themselves to much higher standards than they should, that women are hesitant to put themselves forward and so on.

It should be possible to test this idea by looking at any differences in pitching percentages between fields in which many women publish (the so-called pink opinions) and fields in which they do not.   If women, in general, have higher standards for themselves or  more reluctance to put themselves (or less interest in getting published) the problems should be comparable across different fields of journalism, right?

That's not a fool-proof test and could not prove or disprove alternative explanations.  Still, it might be an interesting study to carry out, especially if the alternative is to assume that women just are that way and should shape up.