What is the future for women on British radio?

There has been some reflections in the radio industry within the past couple of weeks on how to tackle an issue that has been the subject of debate for many years—women in the radio industry,

There has been some reflections in the radio industry within the past couple of weeks on how to tackle an issue that has been the subject of debate for many years—women in the radio industry, but more precisely, why that amount is so low?

Research released 12th July from the advocacy organisation Sound Women, campaigning for more women on the airwaves, showed that 1 in 5 solo presenters of radio programmes are women and the men to women ratio declines further when it comes to multiple presenters for a programme, according to a report from The Guardian.

Annie Nightingale on recruitment

In an interview with The Guardian, Annie Nightingale, Radio 1’s longest serving DJ and the first woman to be appointed to the station after four years of applying, said while there should be more women on the radio, you want to make sure that individual is the best for the job.

Yet, Nightingale noted, when she joined Radio 1, she had felt like a token woman, as the next female presenter, Janice Long, would not be appointed until 12 years later. “Once I opened the door, I thought they would all come rushing through, and they didn’t. I felt like a token woman for a long time,” Nightingale said. “I still don’t know why. There are many more opportunities for women now, but you are up against some very competitive blokes. You have to be quite a competitive person to get into radio. You have to have broad shoulders and be resilient and to want to keep up with technology.”

Researching Radio Ratio

Miranda Sawyer, broadcaster and radio critic for The Observer, said she was not surprised of the statistics, but noted the research was unfunded, conducted over a week in February. “I want to see properly funded research,” Sawyer said. “Sound Women isn’t there to say, ooh you naughty men, we want to work with the BBC and commercial radio to work with getting women on air and behind the scenes. Radio is embedded in people’s lives.”

The most noted example of lack of women on radio is Radio 4’s Today programme, which had long been criticised for a lack of female presenters. Shortly after the study was announced, the BBC said Mishal Husain would be joining the team of presenters in the autumn. Tony Hall, the BBC’s Director General, said in a statement that it was important for the Today programme to have another female voice, adding that Husain is a “first-rate journalist who will be an excellent addition to what is already a very strong team.”

A spokesperson for BBC News said Husain was out of the country and not available for an interview for this piece.

Women in the wrong generation

Sawyer, who notes that 51 per cent of women listen to radio in the UK, said you had to be a particular journalist to get on as a presenter of Today. “There aren’t as many women with this background,” Sawyer said. “This generation has—Mishal, Sarah [Montague], Evan [Davis] and Justin [Webb] is in the same generation. John [Humphrys] and James [Naughtie] are in a different generation.”

Sawyer herself notes that she has not faced discrimination in radio because of her gender. “Generally I’ve been treated fantastically,” Sawyer said. “I’m quite mouthy and established. It would be relatively difficult to put me down. I wouldn’t stand for it.”

Sawyer adds though that station controllers are trying to attract more female DJs and presenters, including Radio 1 and 1Xtra controller Ben Cooper and Radio 2 and 6 Music controller Bob Shennan.

Commitment to equal opportunities

Indeed, a BBC spokesperson said the corporation acknowledged the study. “The BBC is committed to being an equal opportunities employer with many talented women in high profile presenting roles across our radio networks,” the spokesperson said. “However there is always more we can do and we continue to collaborate with Sound Women in addition to running our own training, networking and mentoring initiatives to address this industry-wide issue.”

Yet, Sawyer adds, women need to put themselves out there. “If you’re not standing up in the air, they won’t know you’re there,” Sawyer said. “Geeky interns are men—women can do it but their confident level isn’t high. I don’t know where the lack of confidence is. The employer prince won’t come until you put your hand up.”

However, can the gender imbalance be resolved in the long-term? Sawyer says it can. “A lot of women empowered by meeting other women through Sound Women groups,” Sawyer said, adding that the Radio 4 programme Woman’s Hour did a series on the 100 most powerful women in the UK. “Interviews that came and discussions happened through social media empowered women,” Sawyer said. “There is a kind of rise in feminism amongst young women.”

Women empowering women to rival their male counterparts

Indeed, considering the work of Caitlin Moran and the blog Everyday Sexism in the rise of the feminism, Sawyer hopes this will spur women to go onto do great things. After all, Sawyer says, “all these things show women aren’t alone.”

What do you think? What can be done to improve the gender ratio in radio? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.