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In recent weeks I have noticed a lot more women being quoted in the pages of The Australian Financial Review. They are not talking about gender issues, specifically, but about business. It's a welcome sight.
I was recently at a dinner hosted by Women for Media. Hosted by the dynamic Carol Schwartz, non-executive director of Yarra Capital Partners, the dinner canvassed some reasons why women do not get quoted in the business press. It has had quite an effect at 'The Fin', which is taking a positive position.
Here at Private Media, our CEO Amanda Gome is very active on equal representation across the seven titles in the group.
And I have always been interested in quoting women in business stories. I have written stories entirely about women in business, differing attitudes to risk, styles of leadership and attitudes to money.
But I have found it very difficult. I have found women to talk to because I am prepared to be persistent.
So, here are the reasons I struggle to quote women in business stories. (I'm dying for all of you to prove me wrong.)
- They don't express a strong opinion
If you want to get into the press, you need to express an opinion, especially on matters of gender.
Many women dither on gender issues because they don't want to generalise. Ridiculous. If you don't have an opinion on gender issues, make sure you have the contact name of someone who does in your smartphone, and pass it on.
Before you hang up, tell the journalist that you have strong views on other areas of business and name two. Invite them to call you on those matters.
- They want an email
I have rung women for comment and been told to send questions by email and to publish email answers.
In highly contentious stories this might be appropriate, but not in any other cases. Email replies are typically useless to quote because they are too long and in stilted, non-conversational language. Emailing questions is time-consuming for busy journalists and doesn't allow for clarification.
Don't ask for questions before an interview; ask for a brief précis of the story before you start talking. Women must be able to answer promptly and think on their feet.
- They hate talking about money
Women rarely brag about money (never, in my experience), and don't want to be associated with wealth.
Even wildly successful businesswoman are uncomfortable talking about their wealth, what it means to them, what it says about their success, what they do and don't do with their money, or why it makes them feel uncomfortable.
This attitude extends to money in business, cost-cutting, budget targets, profits and growth.
- They defer
Many women in private companies share the leadership role with their husbands, and when the press call, they hand the phone to their partner. Don't.
Whenever there is an opportunity to speak with the media, push to the front of the crowd.
- They don't build relationships with journalists
In a story I wrote called "Why businessmen need women", I interviewed company director, Kathleen Conlon. She offers a counter-example to the point I'm making here; Conlon is great at establishing a relationship with journalists. For example, following the interview and the story, Conlon's assistant got in touch to invite me to have coffee with Conlon. We were in separate states, so it wasn't easy, but Conlon was gracious and persistent. Over coffee, we chatted about issues to do with women in leadership and I came away with some story ideas and a clearer idea of when to call Conlon in future stories.
I do. Simple.