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Why Female Experts Are Quoted Less Than Male Experts -- And How To Change That

10/28/2014 06:05 EDT | Updated 12/28/2014 05:59 EST

Read Andrea's first Women of Influence series post here.

I'd like to tell you a story about one of my clients.

Barbara Stewart, a portfolio manager at Cumberland Private Wealth Management, came to us in 2010 because she was frustrated with the multitude of articles that depicted female investors as under-confident, indecisive and disgruntled. There was a strong disconnect between what she read and what she knew to be true in her day-to-day dealings with her smart female clients throughout her career.

She was passionate about this issue, and decided to do her own research in order to challenge these prevailing ideas and demonstrate just how untrue they were. She wanted smart women to have a voice. And she wanted to be their champion.

Barbara asked us to develop a strategy for her research project, and I told her that she would need statistics to back up her arguments as facts. Broad Reach then helped her develop and conduct a groundbreaking public opinion survey and Barbara leveraged the results in a whitepaper entitled the Financial Lives of Girls and Women.

This research was the first of its kind in Canada. Given the powerful PR strategy we developed, Barbara very quickly earned a reputation among the media and her peers as a national expert on the topic. Since then, she's written more whitepapers and articles on investment for women and other similar topics. We also secured her a position as a regular columnist with Sun Media's 24 Hours newspapers and the Toronto Sun. Barbara is now considered an expert and a sought-after speaker around the world.

Barbara identified a gap in her industry, and we gave her the tools and the platform she needed to step into the spotlight and position herself as the expert she was.

In June, I had the privilege of telling this story to 150 people at the Young Women of Influence Evening Series. I was giving a talk about how women in business can position themselves as experts in their fields. I meet many women who are hesitant to take this kind of step -- to appear on panels, to write guest columns and to volunteer as interview guests on TV.

Female experts are quoted less often than their male counterparts in newspapers and on TV. Why? Because many women falsely believe someone else knows their area of expertise better than they do. This prevents them from stepping into the spotlight that they have earned and deserve.

As women, we can start to close this gap by simply claiming our rightful positions in the limelight. Below I've listed some of the important tips I shared with my audience at the Young Women of Influence event:

1. Know your subject. Figure out what you want to be known for and marry it to your strengths, knowledge, experiences and company objectives. Leverage what motivates you and makes you unique. Some people are experts at their jobs or in their community activities. Others thrive in their capacity to parent or coach.

Don't underestimate your ability to be an expert in some facet of your life. Overcome the feeling that you don't have something valuable to contribute because I guarantee that you do.

2. Be clear and memorable. This is a critical part of the media training sessions Broad Reach delivers. Once you've created and honed your messages, and tried them out a few times, they become the foundation for all of your communications going forward. Don't be traditional with your message. Be different and interesting; otherwise, why should anyone care?

3. Craft an elevator pitch. Make it succinct and intriguing. In 30 seconds, explain what it is you do and what change you make in your industry or environment. Consider creating a tagline to help you communicate your expertise in an easily digestible way.

4. Ensure your goals are clear and measurable. Chart your progress along the way. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro a decade ago is one of my proudest accomplishments. After the requisite research, planning and not quite enough training, I marched myself up that mountain, an achievement that still inspires me today. Challenge yourself constantly. You'll be surprised at what you can achieve if you put your mind to it.

5. Find the best way to reach your audience. Identify your audience and then look for the channels they frequent. These can be newspapers, magazines, videos, blogs, social media or speaking engagements.

When it comes to securing speaking opportunities, write a brief but compelling description about the topic you can speak to and always include the key takeaways. Reach out to boards of trades, conferences, companies and other places that will allow you to reach your target audience.

6. Get training. I believe that more women should be showcasing their expertise on a local, national and even global scale. In fact, more women should be creating a platform for themselves so that everyone around them knows just how talented and valuable they are.

To say women are quoted less often than men in Canadian media would be an understatement. Women make up only 22 per cent of guest commentaries in Canada's largest daily newspapers and journalists always tell us how tough it is to find qualified women to interview.

When journalists finally reach qualified women, they often decline the interview because they don't believe they have anything to contribute. Get the media and presentations training you need to get started. There are many tips and countless free videos and podcasts for you to access online.

7. Seek and step into the spotlight. Social media gives you a great opportunity to create a name for yourself. It actually levels the playing field. There are many benefits to understanding how to leverage this medium to promote what you're doing. It will get you noticed and it will give you a chance to showcase your expertise.

If you have an opportunity to speak, put your hand up no matter how scary it may seem.

Trust that you're already an expert in your field and that it's just a matter of choosing a platform that suits you and your message. If you're feeling intimidated by the prospect of stepping into the spotlight, just consider the valuable example you're setting for women just entering the workforce.

What techniques do you use to position yourself as an expert? Why do you think some women shy away from the spotlight? Leave a comment below to let us know.

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