I admit to be more than a little annoyed by Steve Paikin's comments on the lack of women in Canadian punditry. It was frustrating to hear his accounts of the replies he received when he asked women to appear on his TVO show "The Agenda."
While I may have been annoyed in reading the reasons for declining appearing on his show such as "I didn't get my roots done" etc., I was downright ticked off by the reason he gave for those declines. Mr. Paikin has assumed the reason is simply down to our DNA. Apparently, women's DNA limits their ability to manage such situations as punditry. No. I don't think so. If this is true what do you make of me or the many other female pundits working across the country?
Dare I suggest we seem to be confusing two key issues here? A lower number of female pundits doesn't equate to low political engagement by women in Canada. We've just celebrated the end of 2013 which was the year I deemed the Year of Women in Politics. From politicians like Michelle Rempell to Megan Leslie and pundits like Kathleen Monk who fiercely debates and regularly appears on the country's two leading shows; women are standing up and being heard.
To be fair Mr. Paikin's original point was correct -the majority of women don't naturally arrive at punditry. Whether its punditry on television or in print; punditry to this day remains the domain of men and their DNA. It's a little ironic that while Mr. Paikin was doing the asking, I was actually doing the job. While many waxed poetic about all the hand-wringing and hair washing preventing women from showing up, I was taping a segment on a little show called Power & Politics. That segment will become one of five or six I will tape this week.
I'm a working pundit. What does that mean? It means 50%-60% of my hours are allocated to professional punditry work. The job is tough. There I said it. The pay almost makes up for what you might be earning at your consulting firm or your newspaper. Punditry is unforgiving. There is almost no room for error. It tests your skills, experience and it forces everyone to walk the talk. While many succeed many more check out for new pastures. With that said, I love my job. I truly enjoy the cut and thrust, the debate, the policy discussions and the speed. I love how it challenges me and while often teaching me a few lessons along the way.
I don't believe women turn away from punditry because of their DNA. I arrived on this earth as a opinionated talker who wasn't afraid of sharing my thoughts and feelings about anything to anyone at any time. Thankfully I had parents who challenged me to take my interest in politics, journalism, policy and talking; and turn it into something more constructive than random rants. They told me to lean in well before Ms. Sandberg coined the phrase. Along the way I received my fair share of bumps and bruises; but nothing that ever deterred me from participating in the arena I work in today.
If the narrative is that it's in our DNA to swerve on punditry then let's take a drive across the border. The U.S. paints a rosier picture for female pundits. Women dominate CNN, FOX and MSNBC; and it's not just the cable news networks that have walked the talk. NBC, ABC, CBS and PBS have all in their own ways demonstrated the value of women in punditry. Outside of the Sunday morning politics shows; women are taking the lead on daily political shows. This is big business in the U.S. and networks have increasingly taken the gamble on relative unknowns turning them into female political pundit stars.
Up here, we're slower to place our bets on women -- but that's changing. During last year's provincial election here in BC, I became part of a team that broke one of the last dusty and antiquated rules of election coverage. Thanks to my brilliant producers who were instrumental in giving more air time to female pundits, they made the decision to team me up with another female political pundit. Our desk was part of a collaborative effort -- several desks each speaking on different stories from election night. We were a small cog in the wheel but we were the first desk to have two women holding down the fort on commentary and I thank my producers every day for that decision. To no one's surprise, the world didn't fall apart that night but we were surprised by the overwhelming feedback from viewers.
Some people argue that certain changes need to be made in order for women to want to enter the arena of punditry. The suggestion is that that we need to censor the system to make women feel more comfortable. That's offensive and I vehemently disagree. What truly needs to change is for networks to share their American cousins' point-of-view on women and punditry. The women who have 'leaned in', worked hard and have proven capabilities are too often under-utilized. We need make more room for these women by giving them more air time and space to grow.
Why are there less women in punditry in Canada today? Quite honestly, I'm not sure but I do know the answer isn't cookie cutter -- it's not a one-size-fits-all approach. I want to make sure that we keep the door open on this debate and not reduce it to a political football that sounds more like a chastising of women's choices versus an intelligent discussion on women's role in media and politics.
MORE ON HUFFPOST: