I attended the Sound Women networking event at Media City last week. I may be a man, but I like to think I’ve earned my stripes.

From the appointment of Liz Kershaw to a solo BBC Local Radio breakfast show in 2000, to championing brilliant women like Heather Stott, Liz Green, Diana Luke, Sam Walker and Becky Want; I hope I’ve only ever discriminated on talent alone.

Sam Walker, from Real Radio NW and BBC Radio 5 live.

So at the event, organised by Kate Cocker and Jo Meek of Sound Women’s NW branch, two things struck me as, well, awkward.

The first; with one notable exception (Hello, Christine), all the human beings invited who have radio stations or departments to run, along with jobs to offer, were in possession of penises. That was sad, and an illustration of how endemic this problem is. And how Sound Women really needs to be a long-term project to affect change in our business.

The second was this. A room of over sixty women, by my count, given the chance to quiz two of the most experienced, self-assured and top-of-their-game women broadcasters in the UK, Shelagh Fogarty (5 live) and Sam Walker (Real/5 live).

So what were the burning questions in the minds of this sparky, inquisitive and no doubt talented audience? (I paraphrase, but this is the gist.)

How do you not become emotional when covering tough stories?

How do you juggle your family and your career as a broadcaster?

How do you cope with negative comments from listeners aimed at you as a woman?

This could be chicken and egg, but really? Would an audience of female brain surgeons be so predictable? Or a group of male radio people?

Sam gave a great answer about how women can be categorised all-too-easily on the air. She heard Richard Bacon hosting a segment about skincare, and imagined the the flak if that had been presented by a woman. (Another Sam anecdote was a wonderful radio-affirming moment about the regular listener who recently texted ‘just to let you know I’m on holiday for couple of weeks, so I won’t be able to listen’ as an example of how our medium connects like no other.)

So as well as valuable networking, earnest frowning and consciousness-raising, what could Sound Women do to really make a difference? Three ideas.

1. Nail the Lie

For too long, misogynist programmers have hidden behind presumably-mystical research that women ‘have to try harder’. That given the choice, male and female listeners would rather listen to men.

Raise the cash to commission some REAL research into listening habits. Qual and quant stuff that analyses favourite presenter data, then tackles in interview the relationship that gender groups have with presenters of both genders.

The campaign thus far has highlighted the problem. Now is the time to begin the long process to remove some of the foundation of lies that underpin discrimination against women in radio.

2. Celebrate

Run an event, maybe timed to unveil the results of the research above. An event, open to all women in radio, from all sectors, to come together on one day. A single moment of affirmation and inspiration, challenging the status quo.

3. Talent Management

The 200 List (“to celebrate and raise the profile of the many amazing women working in the audio and radio industry”) on the Sound Women website is a start. But it is evident this is not a live document. Some of the people listed have moved on to new challenges.

How about managing a more dynamic list?; making connections with agents and programmers, the Radio Academy networks, and doing some really proactive work to identify great female prospects for roles at all levels, and to be a resource for those in radio power as attitudes begin to change?



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