Why The OpEd Project?
Why did you start The OpEd Project?
The short answer is that the range of voices we hear from in the world is incredibly narrow – and comes from a tiny sliver of the world’s population: mostly western, white, older, privileged and overwhelmingly (85%) male. Which means we’re hearing from only a small fraction of the world’s brains. That’s a big problem for women and for all of us who aren’t being represented – our stories and ideas and perspectives are not being told (sometimes with life and death consequences). But it also suggests a tremendous opportunity for everyone: what would be the return to society if we could harness all that brain power?
What sparked the idea?
The longer more specific answer to why I started the OEP is that there was a big debate a few years ago about why so few voices, and especially so few women, in thought leadership positions. Larry Summers, then President of Harvard, gave a controversial speech about why are there so few women in higher math and science, and asked if there could be a question of ‘biological aptitude.’ Around the same time, a syndicated columnist named Susan Estrich accused the LA times of sexism, because they ran so few women on their op-ed page. It started a big debate and media outlets everywhere weighed in: Is it due to sexism? Biology? Socialization? With all the speculation, none of it solved the problem. About that time, I became curious why no one was talking about a more obvious and more solvable part of the problem, which is that women don’t submit to front door forums – like op-ed pages or online commentary sites – with anywhere near the frequency that men do. These forums feed all other media and drive thought leadership, so an absence of women (or other diverse voices) in these forums predicts under-representation on a much larger scale – on TV, in business, in congress, for example. And I thought, why don’t we just get more smart women submitting to these gateway forums?
How did it go from an idea to an organization?
The idea is appealing because it is actually good for the world in expanding circles. It’s good for women – both as individuals, and collectively – to be able to have a bigger voice. It’s good for the organizations, institutions, and causes that these women work on and for – it gives those organizations and causes more visibility and power. And it is good for society – because if we get to hear the best ideas from all the best and most interesting brains (not just the small fraction that currently has access to the world’s microphones) then we’ll have a richer, smarter, better public conversation. Hearing from more voices also means there’s going to be more empathy, a better world. Is that too corny?