FEATURE: Radio Reactive: Is Gender Equality in Radio Happening Too Slowly?




Radio Reactive


 IN THIS PHOTO: Zoë Ball (who is set to take over from Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2’s breakfast show)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Is Gender Equality in Radio Happening Too Slowly?


EVERY morning…


 PHOTO CREDIT: @fancycrave/Unsplash

I tune into BBC Radio 6 Music to hear Shaun Keaveny entertain and enlighten the nation – or grumble and moan a lot! That is what I love about him! He is a tremendous D.J. and, through the course of the day, I will listen to RadMac (Stuart Maconie is flying solo whilst Mark Radcliffe recovers from caner) and Steve Lamacq. Tom Ravenscroft has been standing in for Lauren Laverne and the female voices I hear between seven in the morning – before then, actually, as Chris Hawkins is on-air before Keaveny – and later in the evening are men. There are female producers and staff but how many female voices does one hear on the station? BBC Radio 6 Music is one of the fastest-rising options around and there are many reasons why it is my station of choice. I love the passion from the D.J.s and the close-knit bond between the producers and on-air talent. It terms of the music; there is a beautiful mix of genres and we get a combination of new and older sounds. There is gender equality regarding the songs played and, actually, there are a few great music news presenters on the station. Clare Crane and Elizabeth Alker are based in Salford (where a few of the shows broadcast from) and Georgie Rogers is based in London.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Georgie Rogers/PHOTO CREDIT: Georgie Rogers/BBC

I think they are all fantastic and do the station very proud; Matt Everitt, the station’s longest-running music news presenter (who is on Keaveny’s show) is brilliant but it is good there are some very talent women giving us our daily dose of music news goodness. I think they all have their own style and I feel Rogers especially could helm her own show. I think Elizabeth Alker has a Classical music show on BBC Radio 3 and you feel Clare Crane could take on her own show. Apart from a major mistake regarding RadMac – they are moving from weekday afternoons to weekend mornings -; there has been some positive change regarding women at the station. Mary Anne Hobbs moves from the weekends to weekday mornings whilst Lauren Laverne takes over Shaun Keaveny’s breakfast slot – he moves to the soon-to-be-vacated RadMac 1-4 P.M. slot. It is great see Laverne helm breakfast as it means she is the first woman on the station to be in that slot. I also like the fact Hobbs has been ‘promoted’ and allowed more airtime. There are great women on BBC Radio 6 Music: Cerys Matthews, Liz Kershaw and Lamé are essential additions to the station and show, with their talent and popularity, there needs to be more women at BBC Radio 6 Music. I love male D.J.s on the station like Hawkins, Keaveny; Gideon Coe and Ravenscroft – each of them has their place is exceptional at what they do.


IN THIS PHOTO: Amy Lamé/PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Writtle for Evening Standard

I feel, however, there is more passion and personality coming from the women at the station. There is more humour and warmth; something about their drive and connection with the listeners stands in the mind longer. I wonder whether the male dominance at the station will redress and, given the fact they have promoted two prominent female D.J.s on the station; will that lead to improvement and continued evolution?! I do not like to ask, but I am assuming the women on the station are paid less than their male counterparts. I am not sure whether experience and time slot dictates the wages but there one knows most women in radio are paid less than men. BBC Radio 6 Music is among a slew of stations that are exceptional at what they do but are not utilising the wealth of female talent out there. It was recently announced that Simon Mayo was leaving BBC Radio 2 and, at present, he presents the drive-time show with Jo Whiley. One of the comments he left on Twitter was regarding abuse levied at Whiley. She was targeted and trolled because she was presenting that slot and it shows that not only is under-representation an issue but sexism reigns. Besides the fact the chemistry between them is a little off; the format does not do credit to their combined experience and talent.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Jo Whiley/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I feel, if anything Whiley is the star of that show and brings a lot more professionalism, likeability and grace to the listeners. I know she is being given an evening slot but I wonder why she could not take on the drive-time show herself?! I have confronted this issu before – inequality in radio – and ask why there are not that many women in drive-time slots. Given what we know about pay gaps and how some male D.J.s have reacted – including BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans leaving to go to Virgin – and what we have seen published in the press; it seems alarming that, alongside the pay gulf comes this lack of trust regarding women. I am seeing improvements come into the big stations but is it quick enough?! BBC Radio 2, like BBC Radio 6 Music, has a female breakfast presenter from 2019. Zoë Ball is going to wake up the nation very soon and it is a big move forward for the station. I feel Sara Cox would have been a better choice but I wonder why she is not being talked about to fill the upcoming drive-time show change. She would be perfect for that time slot but I feel calls will go unanswered and it will be a male D.J. in that slot. I have to wonder whether Ball will get the same wages as Chris Evans when she takes over.



I know Evans’ cachet and commitment commands him a lot of money but Ball has been in radio for years and should get the same. On every big station, there is that problem with pay and gender inequality. I would like to see D.J.s like Sara Cox, Claudia Winklemann and Zoë Ball seen as figureheads and part of a new revolution. Each D.J. has their own personality and they are all fantastic. I am not going to say that every female D.J./talent on radio is better than men but, as I say, you get more warmth and passion from them. From BBC Radio 6 Music to BBC Radio 2; the best and most promising D.J.s, I feel, are women. The fact they form a minority of the stations’ line-ups worries me a lot. I suspect improvement will come in years to come but, as both stations have had shifts and line-up changes; why were there not more in regards women and balancing things out?! Although BBC Radio 1 is a little more aware and proactive regarding women in big shows – Mollie King and Annie Mac are among the station’s best personalities – I still think there is a way to go there. I am not suggesting instant remedy but I think, by 2020, we should have an equal split in terms of gender on ALL of the big BBC stations – including BBC Radio 6 Music.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @adigold1/Unsplash

There are going to be issues around pay but I feel, in terms of time slot, there should be gender equality. Maybe pay is dictated by experience but women should not be overlooked and paid less because of their gender. If a female D.J. has been on the station the same time as a man; the pay should be exactly the same! I am pleased there have been changes regarding breakfast shows but I have to wonder whether this is piecemeal regarding genuine equality. Beside an all-female radio station, JACK, being launched is the radio business still a male-dominated forum?! Through the last few years; there have been enough articles outlining the facts: women are not provided the same rights as men and paid less. Although this article is five years old; there has not been great improvement regarding numbers and ratio:

Fresh evidence of a gender imbalance in UK radio has been revealed by a survey showing that 20% of shows hosted by a solo presenter involve female broadcasters.

The ratio of women to men on radio declines even further when it comes to shows with multiple presenters, such as the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, where Sarah Montague is the only woman among the five regular hosts, alongside John Humphrys, James Naughtie, Evan Davis and Justin Webb…


 IN THIS PHOTO: John Humphrys/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Sound Women, a campaigning group lobbying for a better gender balance in radio, found listeners were 10 times more likely to hear male voices than female ones on shows hosted by two or more people.

It also surveyed 20 of Britain's most successful female broadcasters, including Jo Whiley, Clare Balding and Annie Nightingale, and found that none of them had been asked if they would like to co-present with a woman rather than a man.

Asked which female presenter she would like to go on air with, Montague chose the BBC's economics editor, Stephanie Flanders, the presenter of Radio 4's Woman's Hour Jane Garvey, and the former BBC Breakfast host Sian Williams.

Nightingale, the longest-serving Radio 1 DJ, chose Fi Glover as her dream female co-host. She agreed there should be more women on radio but said: "You don't want just want to be there to make up the numbers. You want to be there because you are the best person for the job."

It took Nightingale four years from first applying to getting the job as Radio 1's first female DJ. It took another 12 years before the second, Janice Long, was appointed”.

It is shocking seeing the figures in black-and-white and I wonder, if we saw a report now, whether there would be a huge difference. I do not think so. There might be more women coming into radio boardrooms and in management positions – there are a lot of great female producers – but, when it comes to being on the air…how many women are we hearing daily?!


 IN THIS PHOTO: Vick Hope/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I am baffled why it is so hard to an equality and why there cannot be that balance. There are plenty of wonderful female D.J.s who could do solo shows or be part of a partnership. Even when big stations do one-off shows and documentaries; most are from men and that is another area that can be addressed. D.J. Vick Hope – who co-hosts the breakfast show on Capital FM and is an award-winning journalist/D.J. did a piece for Marie Claire that outlined her experiences:

“…Now consider this: in the long history of male-female duos, the man almost exclusively sits at mic 1; the woman at mic 2. Incredible, right? So, without question, the man is in control, meaning that until he decides to switch her on, the woman across the desk from him essentially has no voice.

For me it’s what this mechanical fact represents that stings. I was told this six years ago when, fresh out of university and full of ambition, I attended a talk for budding broadcasters at the BBC led by Woman’s Hour anchor Jane Garvey. At 21, excitedly embarking upon my broadcasting journey, it hit me hard. Why, I thought, are producers and programmers not questioning an ingrained power structure that subconsciously silences women. Regardless of their talent or drive, the message is clear: ‘Know your place… because that’s just how it is.’

Six years into the industry, challenging this antiquated assertion has become a daily battle for me. Yes, I work with fantastic TV and radio teams, my job is a dream, I love my colleagues and, to be clear, I’m not pointing fingers here at any companies in particular. But there remains an inherent systemic problem that’s lamentably become the norm…


 PHOTO CREDIT: @rawpixel/Unsplash

Why does an overwhelmingly male office of production staff raise so few eyebrows? Why is it still acceptable that the only female producer is still relegated to tea runs and answering the phones, or that an almost entirely male presenter line-up goes unchallenged for just looking plain weird. Because, come on, in 2018, it does. Really weird.

Together, we can put pressure on our employers to do better, to represent the rich diversity of the audience they serve, to stop painting women as sidekicks, as appendages or accessories to men. Otherwise, we risk other young women sitting in talks like I did six years ago thinking, ‘I know my place, and it’s not here”.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @rawpixel/Unsplash

It is good to hear, first-hand how sturdy the glass ceiling is. It makes people think and, as Hope says; things need to change and proactive debate/lobbying can see changes come through. There are a lot of smaller stations – most of them Internet-based – that have a balance between men and women and I feel they should act as an example as how things are done. In terms of all the biggest stations out there – including Capital FM, Radio X and Absolute Radio – it is predominantly men; most of them are white and middle-aged. I shall address age and race in a separate piece but the homogenisation and clear sexism needs to change very soon! There are some illuminating radio documentaries that show the sexism in the arts and how women are (mis)treated. The fact there has been some changes in breakfast radio is good to see but there is a long way to go before the nuclear inequality is made safe and we see a radio industry where women are equal. There are, as I stated, more women coming into the boardrooms but production teams and most of the radio heads are men. I wonder whether, in addition to direct changes at the stations, there needs to be some grassroots education at a foundational level. From school syllabuses to music colleges; do we all need to show the issue at hand and encourage greater parity?


 IN THIS PHOTO: Jenni Murray and Fi Glover of Woman’s Hour/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC

There are plenty of women out there speaking loud and directly campaigning but do men need to do more?! I have tried to get onto Woman’s Hour and have a say regarding this but have not been contacted. It seems a lot of women are doing what they can but men are not coming forward – or there is a feeling men do not know what they are talking about and are insincere. I want to bring in this article from 2014 and compare it to the one we have seen from Vick Hope. Although there have been some changes between 2014 and now; look at the words below and we have seen little visible improvement:

One cold, early morning earlier this year, Lilley Mitchell, 29, found herself standing in the kitchen of a stranger's house in Oxford, looking out onto his water-sogged back garden and expressing disbelief.

Right in front of her eyes, water was creeping up to the back of the house. Any minute now, it would spill into the kitchen.

Lilley was witnessing the cold reality of the Oxford floods. On one of her first assignments for BBC Radio Oxford, Lilley was right in the middle of the biggest story of the day in her area.

As far as local radio goes, Lilley realised it doesn't get much more 'real' than this.

She is one of a handful of 'rising stars' picked out by the BBC as part of its drive to get more women onto the airwaves. The broadcaster hopes that by giving talented female 'rookies' a chance to try out reporting in local patches, it will make room for other female reporters to move up the career ladder or branch into different roles; such as co-presenting their own show”.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @csbphotography/Unsplash

There are ‘women in radio’ courses that actively encourage women to get into the business but that raises questions whether radio stations are hiring women because of tokenism or quotas:

The BBC 'women in radio' courses, which took place in Birmingham, Salford and London, came about after Lord Tony Hall, the broadcaster's director general, last year made it one of the organisation's priorities to boost the number of women presenting local radio breakfast programmes.

As of April 2014 – the latest figures available – some 32 per cent of breakfast shows now have female presentersIn just eight months, there's been some improvement. As Mr Hall states, the broadcaster is "heading in the right direction".

But breaking these figures down, the 12 per cent rise equates to just five women. Four of those are solo presenters (Emma Britton on Somerset;Etholle George on Suffolk; Nicky Price on Norfolk and Georgey Spanswick of York) and one is co-presenting (Lizzie Rose on Humberside).


 IN THIS PHOTO: Former BBC executive Helen Boaden/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Even Helen Boaden, the director of BBC Radio, (which provides national radio stations), has said there is a "danger" that women are brought in to the BBC – whether it's presenting a radio programme or appearing on a comedy panel show – to boost numbers, rather than because they are categorically the right person for the job”.

Some defend the imbalance and say radio station hire who they think is best for the job as opposed a blanket gender equality – that suggests either women are discouraged from getting into radio or the ones here are untalented and not as skilled as men. I know well enough there are plenty of keen and talented women in radio who are not being recognised and noted as much as the men. The fact alarming figures show an imbalance makes many women feel they will not get very far at all – many are turning to podcasts to have their say and be heard; fearing mainstream and local radio will not hire them.

Another school of thought revolves around women and childcare. Some say women, obviously, will want children and that comprised their long-term reliability. Childcare is readily available and I feel it is not an issue that should affect gender equality:

There are some excellent examples of women who juggle childcare with breakfast show presenting – including Radio 5 Live's Rachel Burden, who says that working (very) early mornings allows her to see her kids in the afternoons.

But for other mums, the hours just don't suit, Holdsworth says.

"Some women specify they can only do a certain time of the day. The other thing we have difficulty with is someone who wishes not to be on air five times a week; if they're not appearing every day it makes it harder.

"Inevitably, where mothers are the main childcarer in their family, this could exclude women for a part of their careers. They need to have the confidence to come back in."

And do mothers, generally, have the confidence to come back? More broadly, could it be the case, for example, that women – mothers and non-mothers – are holding themselves back from putting themselves forwards for radio roles?

Holdsworth says: "I think both women and men hold themselves back. The one issue we have identified with some women, though, is a fear of the technical side of radio”.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @hsfju/Unsplash

The problem regarding women not being fairly represented in radio is not limited to the U.K. From Australian thorough to America; it is clear there is a worldwide issue that needs tackling. There are courses that urge women forward but I feel immediate changes can happen at the biggest station that will do more good than courses – it proves there is a place for women and equality is possible. Making changes to breakfast line-ups is great and a positive steps but look at the other time slots and how many male faces there are (compared to women) and it is clear a lot more needs to be done! From music news presenters like Georgia Rogers to on-air talent like Sara Cox and Liz Kershaw – are we doing enough to create a fifty-fifty balance in the industry?! I feel change is being talked about but not enough is being done. Until there is a retuning and big wake-up call; radio will be seen as a boys’ club and will discourage women from getting into the business. The plethora of brilliant women in radio shows what potential there is and, if we lose them from the airwaves; that will have a damaging and profound effect…


 PHOTO CREDIT: @clemono2/Unsplash

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