On 21 October 2014, I gave evidence on the first day of the Inquiry into Women, News and Current Affairs launched by the House of Lords Communications Sub-Committee. Together with Prof Suzanne Franks (City University), we answered a number of questions from the Committee, informed largely by the written evidence which had been sent in by researchers and others working in the field. Fortunately, we had been sent sneak peak beforehand so the line of questioning was not entirely unexpected but it did feel a bit like a job interview, with each Lord taking their turn in asking ‘their’ question.
Whilst Committee Room 2 was a slightly daunting prospect as I waited outside for those on the inside to finish their pre-meeting, once we got started it was surprisingly enjoyable, not least because I knew what I wanted to say and managed to insinuate a few comments from left field which didn’t always answer the question in hand but did make the points I thought were important. I was, after all, in that most effective place to exercise such a strategy and had, in any case, been told that I could answer questions which I wished the Committee had asked, but had not done so. So I did.
There were no ‘tricky’ questions and the Committee seemed genuinely interested in understanding why there are so few women in news and current affairs broadcasting, both working in the sector but also in terms of representation. The Lords wanted to know why the picture is as it is and of course, there is no one answer but making recruitment and promotion decisions based on whether people use the urinals or the women’s room, dress on the left or the right, can’t be sensible; wasting the talents of 50% of the workforce can’t possibly make sense; dismissing older women presenters because they are apparently no longer attractive to look at (says who?) means that the most loyal demographic for terrestrial TV (older women over 50) can relate even less to the folks who are now speaking to them.
So, what did I tell them? Well, how about mandating Ofcom to require public broadcasters to include gender-disaggregated statistics on performance in their annual report, showing who works where in the organisation, showing how they are implementing and monitoring their equality and diversity policies and what actions they are taking to move towards achieving gender equality? Or why not reinstate the Broadcast Equality and Training Regulator in order to monitor media performance and report on the results? Or how about having transparent systems of selection, recruitment and promotion to ensure that the best people get the jobs on criteria of merit and ability and not on the basis of tipping the nod to a favoured son? Read the research which shows that the most successful organisations are those which have a significant number of women on their boards. Really, it’s not rocket science.
Earlier version of this article was published here: http://www.digitalwomenuk.co.uk/is-getting-more-women-into-tv-news-difficult/