Social media and influence: why don’t women figure on the lists?

Women make up 50 per cent of media staff, 50 per cent of the world’s population with an equal split with men in their use of social media. Yet women are continually hard to spot on any list that relates to social media and influence.

In the wake of our Have women got Twitter clout? panel debate, Words of Colour’s executive director Joy Francis and creative programmes manager Julie Tomlin set out an agenda for change.

On 30 May 2012, at the Free Word Centre, we held an important panel debate on whether women had Twitter clout. With an impressive panel of female experts (Minna Salami, Lis Howell, Hana Riaz and Sanam Dolatshahi), the debate was incisive and enlightening. It also showed that we not only hit a nerve, but were only scraping the tip of the iceberg.

The prompt for the debate was the Independent’s Twitter 100 List on which only 18 women featured, a fact that seemed to slip way under the radar. How so, we asked? How was influence being defined? By the number of followers, retweets and mentions, or at the expense of quality over quantity?

Research by Brian Solis of Altimeter Group, along with comScore, shows that women are the majority users of social media, internationally, either in a 50/50 split to men up to a 57 per cent presence on Twitter. On this evidence women are the Twitter mainstream, so why aren’t they being invited en mass to the party?

When writing about the topic for the Independent, a day before our debate, Salami raised questions about who determines whether someone is a “titan” or has clout. The jury is still out, though based on other similar lists, such as for the most influential blogger or left wing thinker, women are being marginalised with great regularity.

The debate, some of which you can watch for yourselves, touched on three core areas that the Words of Colour team intend to build on in the coming months.

The first was the importance of connecting and networking. A significant part of this is finding ways of encouraging greater awareness of who is on Twitter, what they are doing, why they use it and their experiences in the online and social media space.

There was also a great deal of debate over the need to challenge existing attitudes towards women, both in the mainstream traditional media and on social media. This might take the form of campaigns like Broadcast’s Expert Women, led by Lis Howell, or by encouraging women and men to confront any questionable attitudes they stumble across.

For example, event organisers have to seriously ask themselves why they have, once again, ended up with an all male, and predominantly white, panel, or repeatedly sign up men to contribute to a website, blog or online debate.

The criteria used to judge influence and clout should also be challenged and made more transparent. There is a need for greater sophistication in any monitoring or measurement to help move the skewed and often ill-considered debate from being only a number crunching exercise. Any assessment has to deal with the multi-layered and different ways people communicate, and why they choose to follow a particular account.

Before real change can happen, discussion and support must take place both online and in the physical space. This is one of our challenges which we need your help to meet.

Words of Colour Productions would like to thank Engligh PEN for supporting the debate, which we are keen to continue. This includes developing events, training and online forums to facilitate the voices of a diverse group of women, allowing them to be heard and contribute to the vibrant conversations taking place – and that need to take place.

This article first appeared on the Words of Colour website, June 2012

You can also read my round up of the event on Broadcast online and there’s a report by Asiya Islam on Women’s Views on News.