Gender, the Media, and the Unbreakable Ivory Ceiling


It has taken decades, but finally women are being invited to the table, albeit less often than men. All strides are good ones, but the fight for recognition of women in academia remains an ironically under-critiqued and recognized struggle. In an effort to spread awareness about the achievements, realities and importance of women in research, Women Are Boring was born. It fills a significant gap created by the lack of media coverage afforded to female experts.

The Higher Education Authority’s report on gender equality in Irish academic institutions revealed deeply-embedded gender inequality. For nearly 30 years, there have been more women than men completing an undergraduate education in Ireland. Moreover, the latest figures show that this trend has continued into postgraduate education, with women representing 53% of all postgraduate students. Despite this, a mere 35% of senior lecturers are female. The representation of women drops even lower when you look to associate professors (27% female) and lower still at professor level (19% female). Gender inequality in the upper echelons of academia cannot merely be explained as a ‘pipeline’ issue and, unfortunately, academic inequality is not restricted to Ireland as similar statistics are found internationally.

Female researchers are in a paradoxical bind. They have long pioneered social equality and progress but in their own academic sphere, equality has not materialized. The academic world remains vastly different for men and women and although the issue is systematic and complex, the media does have a major part to play.

The mainstream media feed the academic gender disparity by limiting the public visibility of female experts. Although media representations of working women have diversified in recent years, we seldom see or hear from high achieving women in professional academic or research careers. Yet, thousands of these women work within our research and education institutions.

The Global Media Monitoring Project found that in the UK and Ireland, only 24% of the people heard, read about or seen in news media are women. Moreover, in the rare instance that women are called upon as news sources, they are predominantly selected for emotional and subjective topics. Women represent a mere 15% of all academic experts, lecturers and teachers included acting as sources for news stories.

Female experts are leading major intellectual shifts: fighting disease, authoring peace agreements, inventing new forms of clean energy, pioneering discussions on race inequality and working towards a fairer democracy. Yet, the mainstream media continues to celebrate women, almost exclusively, for their physical attributes rather than their intellectual achievements.

This lack of female experts in the news is critical. It is not only reveals the current gender imbalances but also, and more importantly, ensures that gender inequality will persist. Visibility in the news is crucial as it signals to the public that certain people and topics are worthy of consideration. Conversely, the absence of female experts and academics supports and normalizes the notion that men are more authoritative, have greater expertise, and ultimately, are more capable than women. Moreover, the lack of female academics and researchers in the media ensures that young women are less likely to know about, or even imagine such careers, thus creating further gender imbalances within academia down the line.

Woman Are Boring

In an effort to spread awareness about the achievements, realities and importance of women in research, Women Are Boring was born. The sarcastic title is in response to a trending twitter hashtag and popular Google search result, which highlights the ongoing international perception that women are seemingly ‘boring’ in general.

To counteract this, we aim to publish the work of female academics and push the mediated visibility of female experts. In the process, we hope to engage the general public with research conducted by women and simultaneously normalize the voice of female expertise. Far from being boring, the website hosts experts on a wide range of subjects including marine biology, physics, literature, history, architecture, media and finance.

Since the launch, the blog has garnered over 25,000 viewers from over 200 countries. Hundreds of women from inside academia and related research industries reach out every week, hungry and happily surprised to find interesting articles that have nothing to do with their appearance and everything to do with their brains. The immediate success of the blog highlights the falsehood that people don’t want to hear from female experts. Rather, it proves that there remains a shortage of spaces willing to publish them.

To keep up with the pace of contributions, Women Are Boring recently took on editors specifically for STEM and Law topics. The blog will move to a fully integrated website in the coming months and a podcast will be launched in January. Throughout next year, we will host a number of female-led events open to the public, covering a wide range of topics.

The gender imbalance both in academia and in the media coverage of female experts, is a multifaceted, systematic issue. Believing that progress often starts with communication, Women Are Boring set out specifically to reach both academics and the general public. Although women in academia and research are not afraid of writing, and certainly not short of interesting things to write about, in general they are not great at telling their non-academic peers about what they do. For this reason, the blog challenges contributors to write about their expertise in short, jargon-free formats that are later shared via the blog, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Women Are Boring is currently taking contributions for 2017.

Grace McDermott is a PhD student in the DCU School of Communications. Catherine Connolly is a PhD student in the DCU School of Law and Government.

Subscribe to FuJo’s Newsletter