Lisa Kassenaar is editor-at-large, global women’s coverage, for Bloomberg News.
As editor-at-large in charge of global women’s coverage, Kassenaar is leading the news and information company’s fresh look at how its newswire, two magazines, and TV and radio operations explain the role of women in the global economy. More than 2000 journalists are taking part, breaking news and writing features to create a more complete picture of markets and the effects of globalization.
Kassenaar is a former senior feature writer for Bloomberg Markets magazine. Her cover stories on Wall Street firms throughout the financial crisis detailed the inner workings of the world’s biggest banks. She previously was an editor and reporter covering banks and the U.S. and Canadian bond markets. Kassenaar joined Bloomberg in 1995.
In 2006, she won a Newswoman’s Club of New York Front Page award for a story on families moving into the historic bank towers of Lower Manhattan.
A native of Winnipeg, Canada, Kassenaar — who is a devoted Jets fan — earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Manitoba and a masters in journalism from Northwestern University. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two daughters.
Kassenaar spoke Tuesday by telephone with Talking Biz News about covering women in business and the economy. What follows is an edited transcript.
TBN: How did this all start?
I was sort of doing some social issue coverage going into the financial crisis period, and then I was drawn into the coverage of the big firms in 2007 and 2008. As we broadened our outlook again after having our heads down covering the financial crisis intensely, I was having a conversation with (editor in chief) Matt (Winkler) one day that we had not really seen a lot of women as major actors in the story that we were covering. We were not alone in that regard. For us, it was a slightly different situation. If you’re covering the global economy and how the markets work and how businesses work, and there are rising leaders and graduates who are women and they are not in our coverage, we are not presenting he best possible version of what the emerging global economy is.
So at Markets I identified some women we wanted to meet, So I went to France and we interviewed Christine LeGarde, and that went over well. There were other women out there. I also interviewed Elizabeth Warren before she became well known. And I was building up this roster of really fascinating and potentially groundbreaking women who seemed under the radar of this discussion of what was happening on Wall Street.
What if it is a bottom up look at how women are including in every person’s coverage of their beat? So Amanda Bennett appointed me to this position, but we decided we’re not going to have a women’s team. We’re going to work on raising awareness of how we can find the most important women and write about them.
TBN: How does it manifest itself in Bloomberg’s coverage?
I am still a team of one. We are focused on the reporters and editors of Bloomberg around the world look at this through four different buckets.
The first is to look at women as sources and voices. To encourage everyone to look at their source lists and get more women in their stories, as analysts, traders, investors. Just to add variety to the commentary.
The second bucket is to have the most important women on their beat,m and get them to write about them now or later. It is not an imperative to write about them now. It is changing how we look at it overall. Only 4 percent of women are CEOs in the Fortune 500, and only 17 percent are in Congress. Women are underrepresented in a lot of organizations and in a lot of leadership roles. If you cover beats and start with the CEO and get to know them and then work down, you’re not going to have a lot of bandwidth to find the women.
We’re asking people to find the women who are running sales in China or who have the greatest returns on their portfolios. We have had a great breakthrough in a few cases. Mary Barra at GM was one of them. Our GM reporter knew her, and when she was named CEO, our story was able to turn around quickly. That’s not to say if she was a man, we wouldn’t have been able to turn that story around as well.
Invariably, there is a woman somewhere who is doing something interesting. We’re hopefully revealing who those people are. We really do feel that the world is evolving to more women in leadership positions.
The third is to be aware in our commentary section. Where are the women in our commentary section? I continue to talk to the folks at Bloomberg View, but that is really David Shipley’s part of the business.
And the fourth bucket is to look at the world to understand the role of women as actors in big stories, such as health care and politics. We did some pieces on women’s sanitary health in India, and we can relate that to the Indian economy. If you look beneath the surface, to best represent what is going on at India is to write about barriers to justice in rape cases in India, and to write about women’s health.
During the Arab spring period, we were looking at where the women were in all of these countries. We did a story about the women in the Tunisian elections and the women in Libya during its crisis.
TBN: Is there a process to get Bloomberg’s reporters to quote more women?
It is what I am doing every day. There is a lot of talking about it. There are small, internal ways that we can help each other to remember. In some ways, this isn’t about anybody disagreeing with the mission. I think that after a few years after talking about this, the initial objections have kind of dissipated. In the greater scheme of things, there is tremendous good will about wanting to participate. And I think part of that is due to us not having a women’s team. I was not interested in disseminating small stories just because they had a woman in it.
And the factor that can not be underestimated is that Matt is a driver of this in a huge way. He is a huge sponsor. He feels that this is the way forward in terms of Bloomberg News having a better news product. So I get tremendous support from him. So the women’s project is going to be in the new Bloomberg Way that is coming out.
I can not overstate how Matt has been engaged in this to the point where I was meeting with him every week for two years. It has been something where he has been present in every way.
The other thing we have done is present it as an open question as to how we should do this together. So all thoughts are welcome, and that keeps the discussion flowing.
TBN: How do you quantify success?
There is a category on the Bloomberg that is NI WOMEN. That is a big, broad bucket code. We don’t want to suggest that every Angela Merkel story go into NI WOMEN. But we do think it is enough of an incentive to think about the world through the lens of women that people are thinking about stories that could go into NI WOMEN. When we started, there were zero stories in NI WOMEN. It was a very small category.
We did about 1400 the first year and 2000 last year. That’s about a 30 percent increase. I go to bureaus and talk about NI WOMEN stories. This is a way for us to search and track things that we think are part of that big broad category.
An example is the fact that there were no women on Facebook’s board when it was going public. After we did the story, within a day there was a Facebook page for getting a woman on Facebook’s board. That is a classic NI WOMEN story. It was something where we could change the conversation. And a couple of months later, they named Sheryl Sandberg to the board.
Another story is that the World Economic Forum has not been very successful in inviting women to Davos. We just want to put the information out there. We’re not commenting further on it. But the story is gender inequality.
TBN: How hard is it to get men journalists to talk about this issue?
I don’t think that has been a problem. It is kind of a story whose time has come. We are a commercial operation. We are trying to write really influential news about the global economy and governments. And you can’t get there unless you are including women in the story. It’s not just a man story.
There are men who are in their 50s who have a daughter in college, and they are glad that we are doing this. They say, we should be putting out stories that have more women in them. It resonates with them as well. It’s maybe a lot easier than you think.
TBN: Do you think we’ll ever reach a stage where stories about women executives in the media don’t mention their clothes or the color of their nail polish?
We’re already at that stage here. That’s not something that we revert to.
Part of what becomes the narrative of women in media tends to revolve about celebrity and beauty. We become worried about Barbie and the body image for little girls. But that is not something that Bloomberg writes about, or aspires to write about. And it’s not where we need to go to.
I’m much more more interested in Kirsten Gillibrand and what she has to say at the table at the U.S. Senate. And I think a hedge fund manager wants to know that too, not the color of Kim Kardashian’s nail polish.