Women become increasingly visible at the BBC

Mary Hockaday, one of the most senior executives at the BBC, says the objective is to focus on systematically improving women’s representation in senior leadership positions. Newspersons also need to reach out within society to women who have much to offer.

" I am pleased to come to Iceland and have the opportunity to share the BBC’s and my personal experience on how we are working to equalize the ratio of women and men in media. I know that this is also an issue in Icelandic media in which society has an interest and is up for discussion”, say Mary Hockaday, Controller BBC World Service English. Hockaday is coming to Iceland and will give a speech at the ‘Women and Media’ event hosted by Árvakur this upcoming October 4th in cooperation with the Media Council of FKA (Association of Women Business Leaders in Iceland) and Creditinfo.

Hockaday has led the development and structure at BBC World Service over the past years. She was previously Head of the BBC Newsroom and has been working at the British broadcaster for approximately 30 years.

“I am very excited to be part of this conversation because in many ways we look to Iceland and follow various changes that women have shown in your community”, says Hockaday, having a few minutes for a phone call in the busy British Broadcasting Corporating.

 What has the BBC done to increase the ratio of women in its news reporting and debates?

We have been working on it for a long time, to be aware of who our audience or listeners see or hear. It then includes those who work in the newsroom and determining who are the opinion leaders. The role of the BBC as a a public service institution, independent from government is to serve all British people, and it is therefore vital that news reports reflect our community and our audience, of course both male and female.

In particular, we have done two things to balance the ratio of women to men. On the one hand, we have worked on gender equality of the BBC staff and we have achieved great success. A large number of women have important positions, in many radio broadcasting episodes with two hosts, we do not have two men – we always have one man and one women and we have many more female reporters that we used to. We have not yet achieved the position where half of the employees are women, but we are on the right path.

Do not always talk with the same people

The other important issue to improve the ratio is women is, nevertheless, important to be aware of what experts and opinion leaders are invited to the BBC.

“Since then, we have worked hard with editors and encouraged them to review their contacts, do not just speak with the same persons as they have for the last ten years, but to reach out to new people. In this connection we have also offered women – those who can contribute to giving feedback on the news, analyse events, from the university community and a variety of specialists – by bringing them into the the newsroom, offer media training and provide insight into what we are looking for in our news programs. This has been very successful, where female experts contribute to the debate. There are many women who have a lot to offer, but often need to be reached out to.”

Has it taken a long time to change this?

"This is and will be a continous process, but it is something the BBC has discussed and considered for a long time. In recent years, I think the focus has increased regarding these issues and more willingness to change, with realistic projects and ideas that have had impact. For example, there has been action to support women’s growthfor internal promotions at the BBC, providing leadership training generally for all staff and also a program specifically designed for women. We think it is important to support people with different backgrounds, different upbringings and different capabilities. "

A big difference in 30 years

What do you believe is important for media to keep in mind so that women are equally visible as men on the screen, on radio and in magazines?

"First, the media needs to ask themselves why they want to do it and to be true to this. Therefore, if you do not know why you are going to have a gender ratio even in the media, it will never be done well. To me, it is about the community, reflecting our audience, and showing the wide range of voices, talents and views that are out there. That means, of course, that women must also be part of the package.

It must be ensured that bosses and directors in media are involved and are focused on this too, and are willing to take part in this. In addition, focus is needed for equal pay and there are visible signs of willingness to change. The desire for good work is not enough, but without good work nothing happens. "

How is it to work in media in the UK as a woman? What are the main challenges?

"In many ways, these are the same challenges that women, widespread in society, have to deal with. Sometimes you forget that it has only been 100 years since women could not vote. We have come a long wa, and the BBC is far ahead in many ways since we work in public service, so we are very aware of our responsibilities.

But nonetheless, women are fighting for their existence in most workplaces, to flourish in the field of male colleagues. And there is still work to be done."

What is the main difference in your work environment since you started in 1986 and now in 2017?

"When I started, it could be said that things had just begun to roll out. I started as an apprentice at the BBC and when I applied, they took in three students the department I wanted to get into and for the first time we were all women since the beginning. The doors have been opening over the many years, but on the other hand, when I went to work as a controller, I was usually the only women or one of of two in meetings with men. The biggest change I see now is the number of women in managerial positions. When I now go to a meetings, and although women are often in the minority, there are many more and even in senior roles. The BBC is working on having 50/50 male and female ratio of employees and that by 2020, the outcome should be around this level.”

The BBC has been a leader in various campaigns related to increasing the number of women in the media, including other countries, such as the Turn Up the Volume program. What about other media – is there focus on this work elsewhere?

"The largest media organisations have become very aware. Many NGOs have playing a very good role, so that we do not forget those who collect data and have high expectations and many are making good use of it."

Short with flexible working hours

Is there something that stops women from being promoted in the media? And is something that generally stops women from participating in the public debate and appearing in the media?

"Many women may start working in media, but struggle to develop their career along with family life and other factors. We must try to cater to women who want to do part-time work for a while. I strongly emphasize that if women want or need to reduce their work time, it does not mean that their brains have diminished. And while people want to change the pattern of work, it does not mean that the person is less ambitious, less likely to move or less focused on delivering good work.

Although men are also in this position, it is a fact that women often take more responsibility than men about family life, and to support women to balance between private life and work is important, whether it is for children, elderly parents or otherwise.

In the case of interviewees, it has sometimes been debatable that women are less self-confident and are less likely to argue because they do not want to give an opinion unless they know the subject one hundred percent, whereas ninety percent is not good enough.

I'm not so sure, I think it's just different as it is for men, some are confident, others need support."

How do you see the future for you, should we always be aware of each step about gender equality in the media?

"We must stay focused, have the will and the imagination that this keeps everything going in the right direction, with the support of editors, organisations, producers and the women themselves in many places."

The interview in Icelandic was by Júlía Margrét Alexandersdóttir. Translated into English by Danielle Neben.  

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