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#BreakTheBias: Tackling barriers of female representation in the media

Jen, leading by example, on BBC Breakfast talking about the shift from linear to non-linear viewing.

Authored by: Sarah Howarth – Client Services Director

 

PR agencies are a juxtaposition. Dominated by women (68%) – they suffer from the same gender pay gap that plagues so many industries. A fact that’s only surprising, if you don’t understand that the women who embark on a career in PR tend to slip away to have children and don’t come back. Leaving the men to rise up, taking the senior positions and dictating how things are done  (PRCA 2020 census). 

We have a female boss – she’s grown the business from her kitchen table to a team of 30 – and she and her husband welcomed three children of their own during the same time. She’s also  supported women and men from within the business to start and grow their own families. We have no gender pay gap at Democracy. We make room to listen to every voice, human, monster, unicorn.

Gender diversity is a hot topic here – and as an agency, we believe we have a job to do to #breakthebias and elevate the visibility of women in the media.

So on this International Women’s Day, we wanted to look at female representation in the media, and what PR can do to ensure we increase the presence of female spokespeople. 

 

Elevating female spokespeople 

In recent years, it does feel like there’s been a huge step forward in gender diversity, both in terms of those being interviewed and those doing the interviewing, with media from newspapers to TV programmes making commitments to diversity. 

If we take the past two years as an example, we’ve seen high numbers of women take prominent roles in the UK’s response to Covid-19, regularly appearing in the media to help communicate the country’s efforts to combat the virus. From Kate Bingham who spearheaded the vaccine taskforce to Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, we’ve seen prominent female healthcare professionals and scientists interviewed frequently on primetime television. 

However, in the most recent report published by the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), the largest and longest-running research on gender in the world’s news media, women were found to make up just 24 per cent of news subjects and sources reported. And according to this report, this number has not changed since 2010.

On TV, 5 News Deputy Editor Jess Bulman also recently acknowledged that there is still a way to go to increase diversity generally and that with “different people come different experiences and different thought processes”, and that is what in turn will make for good programming.

 

Putting this into action

One example of the increased focus on diversity is that in broadcast newsrooms producers are now reviewing the diversity of spokespeople on a daily basis, striving to ensure that in every programme they produce they have a diverse range of guests that more accurately reflect the make up of the UK population. 

This is a great step in the right direction. But that’s only one half of the equation. 

The media can only showcase a diverse range of backgrounds and opinions if there are actually spokespeople available and ready to take these opportunities. 

Jess Bulman highlights this, saying that her experience has been that “women are more reluctant to appear on screen” and often “men are happier to talk about subjects around their subject”.

 

What makes a good female spokesperson?

At first glance, you might think that the answer to this is simple. What makes a good male spokesperson right?! 

And while the truth is there shouldn’t be a difference – the reality is, there are things that brands can do to increase the likelihood of an interview landing.

The media are looking for fresh perspectives. They want to hear from women breaking boundaries, they welcome juxtaposition and want to share experiences of women succeeding in industries that are traditionally ‘a man’s world’. 

Karen Hilton, from online car buying platform heycar, is an incredible example of where Democracy has raised the profile of a knowledgeable woman, equipping her with the skills needed through regular media training, to become an accomplished ‘talking head’ – with interviews on 5 Live, BBC News, the Times, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail.

There is no question that women are incredible (and so are men) – but as an industry, PR has the power to make a difference. We need to champion to our clients the importance of pushing forward women within their organisation that have something interesting to say and equipping them with the skills and confidence to talk confidently about their experiences.

Regardless of gender, preparation is the foundation to every good interview. Time invested in defining talking points, working through wider industry issues, becoming skilled at bridging and navigating through difficult territories. The team at Democracy works with clients through it all – creating mock studio conditions, reviewing performance, helping every spokesperson to be their best.

 

Making a change today to #BreakTheBias

So, on this International Women’s Day, we call on our partners across the PR industry to do even more to help their clients to celebrate women within their business – paving the way to a more equal future for all of us.

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