The future for female students in British radio

This past July, research emerged from the advocacy organisation Sound Women, aiming to campaign for more female voices on the radio airwaves of Britain.

This past July, research emerged from the advocacy organisation Sound Women, aiming to campaign for more female voices on the radio airwaves of Britain. The research revealed that only 1 in 5 women were solo radio presenters and the decline of the men to women ratio expands when it comes to multiple presenters.

This study was the subject of a recent Kettle story and as news of the research was digested and reaction began to emerge, solutions were also part of the debate when it came to the introduction of more women in the industry.

Yet, what about the female students who wish to enter the industry? What is their future? Can student radio help break the gender gap that has been the subject of scrutiny?

Women in the media judged solely on their looks

Leigh Meyer, the regional officer in Scotland for the Student Radio Association, says the perception in the professional industry sets the tone for how women are viewed. “Women in the media are pretty much judged solely on their looks,” Meyer said. “It sets a precedent for everyone else and really harms the way women are seen by society as a large.”

Meyer, who did not know at the time that she wanted to get into radio, worked at AirTV at the University of Stirling before joining the student radio station Air3, working on the music team and writing reviews before becoming the station’s Head of Music, where she served for two years before becoming the Association’s officer. “I used to listen to the radio every morning and it just felt natural,” Meyer said.

Appalled at the figure

For Caroline Brockelbank, the Assistant Station Manager at Forge Radio at the University of Sheffield, her first interest in radio came from local radio, specifically with Linda Serck at BBC Radio Berkshire, who let her observe after she emailed Serck. “I was inexperienced but incredibly keen and Linda kindly let me come back week after week,” Brockelbank said. “I really enjoyed my time there and from then on I have been pursuing a career in radio at various different radio stations.”

Brockelbank said anyone who read the Sound Women study would be appalled at the figure. “It is great that Sound Women have decided to do this study though,” Brockelbank said. “I think it shows that work needs to be done to encourage women into the industry. After all, everyone listens to the radio regardless of their gender so surely the voices on the radio should be equally balanced too.”

Is it inclusive?

Meyer says she felt Air3 was really inclusive. “We are a large society and our committee was always fairly balanced in terms of female representation,” Meyer said. “We’ve also had two women station managers since I have been a member of Air3. Although I only have a limited experience of student radio (my own station being the only real experience), I felt as though it is an environment that allows women to gain a lot more experience and have fun whilst doing it.”

Yet, at Forge Radio, the scenario was different. Brockelbank says the station’s committee members consisted of 11 men and 6 women, and the Facebook members group only had 37 per cent female membership.

However, Brockelbank says, it is not fair to say there is obviously more men. “To get on committee you are judged by your speech, and to get a show you are completely judged on your show idea, not on your gender or even your experience,” Brockelbank said. I do think it is a big shame that more women do not stand for committee positions.”

Women will be more represented in radio

Yet, for the future, Brockelbank says women will be more represented despite the industry’s competitive nature, and added that student radio can be a part of that solution, noting some of the station’s best presenters and producers are women. “We’ve seen an increase in women wanting to be on our tech, music and sports team at Forge Radio and I only see that going one way over the next few years,” Brockelbank said. “I think the key to improving statistics of women in radio is quite simple, encouragement. If you hear someone that’s good presenting on student radio tell them, similarly if someone is doing a particularly good job editing an interview then make sure they know it!”

Meyer says she has been trying to get work experience and placements to fill up her CV, and says while she hopes this will lead to jobs in the future, she knows sexism is still present. “I’m not naive enough to believe that sexism is gone and there’s no glass ceiling,” Meyer said. “It still will be harder for women to get the jobs they are going for. However, I think that the network of women in audio that has grown is really impressive, and there is a lot of room for support.”

Meyer says though it can get better. “Women, now more than ever are calling out and making people listen. Student radio can help simply by championing its female producers, presenters, etc.”

Advice for getting ready to go into the industry

Meyer adds that it is crucial to have women who are professionally working in the industry come and talk to students. “If young women in student radio can look at a professional woman who had made it in the world of radio, that could be a fantastic inspiration,” Meyer said. “If you show people what they can do, they’ll try to achieve it.”

On the whole, Brockelbank says women should put themselves out there more. “Make demos, tweet people who inspire you and try and get work experience,” Brockelbank said. “If you think you’re the best person at setting up an outside broadcast make sure you scream and shout about it because I think the industry is willing to get more women in male dominated roles.”

People of all genders should stand up

Brockelbank added that bosses at stations should listen to student radio to hear the work of the stations’ presenters and producers.

However, Meyer adds, it’s not just women that need to help make the increase of female voices in the industry a reality. “It takes people of all genders to stand up and make it happen,” Meyer said. “We need to be celebrating our female radio workers and making it easier for more women to join them. The potential is definitely there, we just need to tap into it.”

What do you think? Can student radio help women get into the industry? If you’re a woman studying to get into the industry, are you confident you can get in? Have your say and give your advice in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.