EqualVoice: Why Ringier developed an algorithm to measure gender equality across its brands

Although progress has been made in recent years, the proportion of women as both subjects and sources in news media is still far below 50 per cent worldwide, according to the most recent report of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP). In Switzerland, men make up 75 per cent of the subjects of news reports.

That’s why many organisations are taking things into their own hands with diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives. One such example is Switzerland-based Ringier, with an initiative called EqualVoice. Initiated in November 2019 by Ringier CFO Annabella Bassler and co-founded by CPO Global Media and Blick Group Katia Murmann Amirhosseini, the aim of EqualVoice is to make women more visible in media coverage and elevate their voices across media.

“The visibility of women in leadership roles and in society is a very important matter for me,” Amirhosseini told FIPP recently. She also runs an Edit-a-thon that aims to publish more female biographies for Wikipedia.

Katia Murmann Amirhosseini

After successfully establishing EqualVoice throughout Ringier brands, the founders wanted to take it further: bringing EqualVoice to a global level, with the EqualVoice Summit that took place earlier this month. Speakers such as human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and Switzerland’s Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter were present, with musician Amy Macdonald performing.

“The focus of the EqualVoice Summit is the visibility of women in the media and the exchange with international top executives from the media industry, business and politics. The aim is to raise awareness and unite the media industry beyond Switzerland on the topic of gender equality,” Amirhosseini explained.

Algorithm-driven change since 2019

So what exactly is EqualVoice, and how does it work? At its core is something called the EqualVoice Factor. “With the help of artificial intelligence, a semantic algorithm developed in-house, we measure the representation of women in articles published by Ringier and Ringier Axel Springer Switzerland,” said Amirhosseini.

“The EqualVoice Factor is composed of two objective indicators: the ‘Teaser Score’, which evaluates the visibility of women in pictures, headlines and titles, and the ‘Body Score’, which shows how often women and men are mentioned in the text of an article. The algorithm is purely quantitative.”

The approach is similar to other initiatives we have seen, such as the BBC’s 50:50 Project, but of course the use of an algorithm ushers in a whole new age of DEI tracking.

Importantly, there’s a more qualitative element as well, which is in the hands of editors. “We introduced the ‘EqualVoice Frame’, in which we ask ourselves the question: ‘HOW are women portrayed in our media?’”

Progress in the right direction, but not revolution. Graphic via GMMP

How did it all come about in the first place?

“The starting point for EqualVoice was data. We saw the numbers – according to the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) 2016, 82 per cent of media reports worldwide are about men,” said Amirhosseini. “We know: media plays an important role in creating role models. So we launched EqualVoice to specifically increase the visibility of women in the media, create more female role models and give women and men the same voice. 

“Here again, data played an important role. We wanted to know: Where do we stand, not only in Switzerland, but in our media? As technology is an important part of Ringier, we asked our data specialists – and together we came up with this great solution that provided us with the numbers for our publications on a daily basis, easily available to our journalists. That was very important: we don’t want journalists to lose time counting, but we want them to use the time discussing and reflecting on the daily questions of EqualVoice.” 

Active monitoring leads to improvement

They have been measuring the results in their publications very closely ever since the launch of EqualVoice in 2019, explained Amirhosseini. “Within three years, we have already been able to ensure that more women have their say in reporting,” she added.

“The latest measurement of the GMMP, published in September 2021, records an increase in the proportion of women by three percentage points to 28 per cent in Swiss media coverage. The study, whose approach is based on an annual count of the proportion of women, lifts Blick.ch to first place as the Swiss medium with the highest proportion of women in its coverage, at 49 per cent.”

Particularly noteworthy is that the business media of Ringier Axel Springer Switzerland report significantly more about women compared to the previous year, said Amirhosseini. “In the overall four-year evaluation period, the EqualVoice-Factor Body Score of Bilanz and Handelszeitung each increased by more than 10 percentage points, followed by Beobachter, which increased by 8.6 percentage points.”

Women as sources, subjects – and readers

One interesting trend is an increase in female readers, too. “We also see the success of our initiative in the readership: the more we write about women, the more women read the publications of the Blick Group,” said Amirhosseini.

“Within three years, we have already been able to ensure that more women have their say in reporting.”

The Swiss context

EqualVoice has developed in a country that doesn’t have the best record on gender equality historically. “Switzerland was a little bit late in terms of equality – women only have the right to vote since 1971,” Amirhosseini explained to FIPP. “But since then, the country made fast progress and today plays a good role in terms of gender equality in international comparison. And the topic is also of great concern to the Swiss Federal Council, i.e. our government. But of course, there is still a lot to do.” 

The purpose of EqualVoice was to have an impact internally and externally, said Amirhosseini. “When it comes to equal pay, the entire Ringier Group adheres to the principle of equal pay and has also been certified for this practice by external experts.” 

She added that a modern and open working atmosphere is also a key concern. “For this reason, a Group-wide Diversity & Inclusion Board was also established in 2020 as part of our EqualVoice initiative. The board is committed to concrete measures such as the compatibility of work and family.

“For example, paternity leave has been extended to four weeks. The maternity leave of 16 weeks with 100 per cent salary continuation also exceeds the legal minimum requirements. In this respect, there is certainly still catching up to do nationwide. External childcare is very costly and often forces successful women out of work – we are trying to counteract this decisively with the measures mentioned above. Unfortunately, not all companies in the country are as family-friendly as we are.”

Finally, what does the future look like for EqualVoice?

“I’m not giving too much away when I say that the initiative is now also being well received by other publishers – and that we have taken on a kind of role model function in Europe,” said Amirhosseini.

Follow all their updates here.

Header image: Shutterstock


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