The gender pay gap, HeForShe and #MeToo have pushed gender parity to the forefront of 21st century societal changes. Broadcast by definition includes the widest possible audiences; it, therefore, plays a unique and important role in this gender revolution. TV and radio have a particular responsibility to accurately represent society, both in terms of who appears on our airwaves, and with the journalists who put the programmes together.
Despite making up 51% of the population, women are still severely under-represented, both on and off-air, in news and current affairs broadcasting. Broadcasters claim an obvious reason is that women are under-represented in sectors across society; for example in the City there are currently just 30 women in full-time executive roles at FTSE 250 firms, down from 38 last year. It’s not surprising then that women are under-represented on business radio and TV programmes, although broadcasters are adamant, they want to diminish the use on our screens of “white middle-class men in grey suits.”
This sentiment is especially incumbent on the BBC which is publicly owned. Jonathan Munro, Head of BBC Newsgathering, emphatically endorses this. He says: “There needs to be greater gender balance and diversity across the media and we are seeing real progress across BBC News, but we want to go further and faster. That’s why we have initiatives in place such as the 50:50 Project which seeks to ensure that there are an equal number of male and female expert contributors across our output.”
John Riley, Head of Sky News, argues not only is this fairer, it makes for better content too. He commented: “The more people we have from all sorts of walks of life the more in touch we will be with what is going on in the world.”
Gender diversity, regarding on-screen talent and guests, is a pressing issue for all UK broadcasters. We know from candid disclosures that broadcasters are keeping tallies of women versus men regarding on-air appearances and will take proactive steps to redress the balance. No broadcaster would argue you should engineer diversity but unless they take that kind action change isn’t going to happen.
Andrew Dagnell, acting Head of News Gathering at ITV News explained: “We go through each story and try to see how we can get more women on-screen as experts, contributors and journalists”. The PR industry, he claimed, can support broadcasters’ initiatives by “offering more female case studies and spokespeople when pitching their stories. “
Attempting to make such seismic changes inevitably comes with some challenges. The BBC for example, has recently come under fire for its gender pay gap of 9.3%, in particular the disparity in pay of some of its biggest names. Jo Whiley’s stint as co-host for the Radio 2’s drive-time show with Simon Mayo also ended in a spectacular misfire; it was widely reported that managers added her to the show purely for gender balance and the decision resulted in both presenters leaving the programme. Subsequently Zoe Ball was announced as Radio 2’s Breakfast presenter in an historic move as the first woman to present the show; the presenter has described the role as a “privilege”.
Last year, the BBC pledged that women will make up half of the workforce on screen, on air and in leadership roles by 2020. It’s made a good start with the latter: the Editors of Radio 4’s Today programme, The World At One, Newsnight, Panorama, Question Time and 5 Live News are all female.
Channel 5 News has been a women-led newsroom for more than 5 years and that’s undoubtedly had an impact on the stories they tell and the contributors they use. Editor Cait Fitzsimons said:
“It’s important to find a diverse range of voices to help bring different perspectives to our programmes and digital content. While we’ve made progress, women of colour are still under-represented on–air so we are always looking for better ways of working.”
Obviously in broadcast PR it is incumbent on us to field a spokesperson based on the relevance to the campaign, rather than choosing a woman for the sake of diversity. But realistically, given a choice between a male and a female spokesperson, you’d stand to gain more by choosing the latter.
The lesson here is that we need to give women a genuine voice, be it presenting a show or representing a campaign, but they must have credibility, rather than being used as an easy way for a company or broadcaster to appear representative.
For more advice about using spokespeople for television and radio PR campaigns have a look at some of the other pages on our website: https://shoutcommunications.co.uk/what-we-do/