What can we do to get rid of the all-male panel?

<i>Q&A</i> producer Amanda Collinge has spoken out about the show's struggle to attract more women panellists.

Q&A producer Amanda Collinge has spoken out about the show's struggle to attract more women panellists. Photo: ABC

I won't take no for an answer.

Not good enough. Not smart enough. Not verbal enough. Not pretty enough. I've heard it all before, and not just as a voice in my own head.

These are all the fears - or maybe some of the fears - which pop into your head when someone like Amanda Collinge rings.

She's the series producer for the ABC's panel show Q&A, and last week Collinge said she had trouble getting women to go on the program because they were too terrified. I knew exactly what she meant. I've had that experience too.


From both sides - and it's one of the reasons I no longer take no for an answer.

Collinge's experience is true not just for those of us who work in broadcast. It's not just fear of being on television. It's about being exposed.

When I ring a woman to interview her, even if she is an expert in her field - even if she is THE expert in her field - she will often say she can't do it. There are, she will reply, people who know much more than she does, are a better fit for a story I'm writing, have done more interviews so will deliver better quotes.

So I often go through this process of slow encouragement. Ok, not this time, but next time. It will be good for you. It will raise your profile.

This is not to excuse all those journalists who just go to men as the default setting for expertise about everything. But it does go some way to explain why we have stories with all the men, all the time.

Seeing one of those stories made a bunch of American women academics mad enough to get even. Or at least try to even up the coverage.

Melissa Michelson is a professor of political science at a small college in California. She and a friend, Samara Klar, an assistant professor from Arizona, saw a story on Vox about the US presidential election.

It was about their area of expertise. In fact, they had a number of female friends who were experts in just this area. Yet every single person selected for the story was male. White and male. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

And John Sides from George Washington University; Bruce Miroff, a political science professor at the University at Albany; Andrew Reeves, a professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis; Seth McKee, a political science professor at Texas Tech University; Jedediah Purdy, a Duke University law professor; and Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver are all worthy scholars.

But Klar started emailing friends, who started emailing friends. Twelve days later, there is an entire community. It turns out #WomenAlsoKnowStuff.

Michelson and Klar are now the drivers, with six other women - Emily Beaulieu, Amber Boydstun, Kim Yi Dionne, Yanna Krupnikov, Kathleen Searles and Christina Wolbrecht - of 'Women Also Know Stuff', which lists more than 1000 women with scholarly expertise across the wide range of politics. Notable Australian women on the list now include Susan Harris Rimmer from Griffith University and Linda Botterill from the University of Canberra.

Michelson says that there are so many good women with excellent credentials waiting to be added, she and all her #WomenWhoKnowStuff have had to employ research assistants to help input the data. Now, if you think you know stuff, go here.

The glorious thing about their success is that her institution, Menlo College, is helping fund the brand new project because management understands how crucial it is to get diversity into media coverage. And Michelson wants more than just media coverage - she also wants the site to be a resource so conference and colloquium organisers can avoid all male panels.

But she agrees that some women really lack confidence when it comes to responding positively to requests for media appearances and conference appearances - even when it's important to your career.

"I think that sort of self-doubt or self-censorship happens to many women... It's how we are socialised," she argues.

She also says that women are often hedging their bets in both their writing and their conversation. I think. This suggests. That's the kind of language which implies that others might be wiser, smarter.

"But I'm pretty confident I know stuff. I am a woman who knows stuff. Call me. Interview me."

So, the next step is to see whether the site will have any impact beyond getting coverage, even on Vox. It's one thing to make a list of tremendously bright women who know stuff, it's another to see a demonstrated change by those who quote experts. Michelson knows that's the target.

I got over my anxiety about speaking in public by making myself do it and asking an experienced friend for advice, repeatedly. I still don't love it but I do it because women need to say yes. And that includes you.