BBC creates database of women experts to challenge male-dominated stereotype

BBC launched a database of women experts and a related YouTube channel last week in an effort to increase female presence on radio and TV.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | March 26, 2013

“This is not about getting the right women on air,” said Tim Davie, acting BBC Director General. “This is about getting the right people on air.”

Studies have shown that male experts are four times more likely to appear on radio and TV than females, but the BBC has been known for male-dominated programs including Radio 4’s Today, on which men are featured at a six to one ratio to women, The Telegraph reported. Last year Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey likened the program a “terrible cliched locker room.”

In fact, on July 5, 2011, “you had to wait from 6.15 am until 8.20 am to hear the one female contributor who appeared alongside the 27 male contributors on programme,” Kira Cochrane reported. She found that 83.5 percent of Today’s contributors were male at the time of her study in 2011.

The issue of female presence on news shows is not a new one: Realizing the gender gap, last year BSkyB and Channel 4 signed a pledge to show more women on air, according to The TelegraphBBC notably did not sign because of licensing fees.

Ceri Thomas, recently promoted to BBC’s Head of Programmes, acknowledged the dearth of women on Today back in July 2011. He told Daily Mail that the programme’s presenters don’t accurately reflect “modern Britain,” and that he strove to change that.

The new database features 60 women trained during BBC Academy’s Expert Women Days, the latest of which occurred last week, and an additional 120 women “who showed promise in their applications” to the program. Over 2,000 women applied for the first 30 spots, The Telegraph reported. By the end of this year an additional 60 will be trained at free events that teach women techniques for appearing on radio and TV.

Editors and journalists aren’t solely responsible for the lack of women represented in radio and TV; women themselves are often more hesitant to “put their hands up,” Gail Collins of The New York Times told Poynter. So in order to diversify sources, “we need to take a two-pronged approach,” Mallary Jean Tenore writes. We must both educate women on how to share their expertise with media, and we must facilitate media access to women sources, she says.

BBC’s database joins a growing number of similar websites, including HersayThe Women’s RoomSheSource and The Op-Ed Project. Such resources are important not only for journalists looking to diversify their sources’ voices, but also for women experts as well.

“Websites like these serve as more than just a forum to advertise women’s talents,” wrote Kirsty Walker, co-founder of HerSay. “They also provide women with the collective confidence that there are others out there who are willing to push themselves forward.”

Nine of the women who have completed BBC’s training have already appeared on TV, according to The Guardian.

“Our remit at the BBC Academy is to train the industry,” said Anne Morrison, the Academy’s director, “not just the BBC.

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