Psst! Wanna write an Op-Ed?

Catherine Orenstein helps women break into the opinion pages.

Published July 1, 2008 9:00PM (EDT)

Here's a dismal fact: There are fewer female bylines on the Op-Ed pages of the nation's major newspapers, as a percentage, than there are women serving in the U.S. Senate, according to Bob Sommer, a Rutgers University public policy researcher, who has studied the issue and calls the gender disparity "astonishing." Yet, while some of us spill a lot of words lamenting how few female bylines appear on the Op-Ed pages, Catherine Orenstein, founder of the Op-Ed Project, has actually done something about it.

You may remember reading about the Op-Ed Project in the New York Times early last year. Today's San Francisco Chronicle has an update. Back in 2005, inspired by the fiery debate about the dearth of women publishing opinion pieces, Orenstein, a contributor to the New York Times Op-Ed page and fellow with the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, conceived of a class to teach opinion writing to women. Since then, she has trained 1,500, with about 150 students a month now taking the course. From Orenstein's first class with 12 students, 12 pieces have been published. And since 2005, 50 Op-Eds have been published in national publications by women trained in the class.

In one-day seminars, taught in San Francisco, Washington and New York, Orenstein coaches academics and nonprofit and business leaders on how to make their views heard. First step: embracing the idea that you actually have something to say. In each class, Orenstein asks her students to finish this sentence, "I am an expert in _____."

At a recent seminar in San Francisco, Lynne Dory, who has worked as an administrator at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab for 14 years, said, "Oh, I don't really feel like I'm the expert in anything." Other distinguished women listed their biggest accomplishments, like testifying before the Food and Drug Administration or heading a research foundation, last because they didn't want to "brag." Orenstein attests that she hears the same caveats from highly credentialed, accomplished women in every class.

It made me curious what kinds of experts are out there among Broadsheet readers. Go ahead, don't hide your light under a bushel, let it shine. Post in letters: "I am an expert in_____."

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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