As a woman who works in radio and a woman who likes listening to radio and a person who wonders why women are a comparative rarity on the radio, Sound Women is a cause dear to my heart. (Obviously, since I make their podcast.)
Today Sound Women released their Women on Air report, which found that only one in five presenters on British radio is female. The proportion is even lower when you break it down by such factors as appearing on air regularly, during weekdays, during primetime, solo, playing an equal rather than subordinate part in a presenting partnership, etc etc. NB The report was specifically researching the gender split of presenters; there is also a known insufficiency of female guests, pundits and so forth. Hence the advent of Sound Women a couple of years ago, as recounted by founder Maria Williams in the first episode of the Sound Women podcast.
To me, the one in five number in the report is disappointing, but not at all surprising. Last year I was interviewed by Persephone Magazine and mentioned that I hadn’t ever really been aware of my gender working against me professionally until I entered the radio sphere. It was impossible to ignore the imbalance within the industry. For instance, a few years ago, Olly and I arrived to make a demo at a well-known radio station and, off-hand, I asked the producer how many female presenters they had.
“Errr… Laura does the weather?”
Weather, traffic, news – that’s the female representation on too many radio stations. And yet, so many people I’ve spoken to hadn’t even noticed how few women there are on air until I pointed it out to them. This is the case also with people in radio power: the majority of high-ranking radio execs are male, which means those who could fix the gender problem are not necessarily aware of the problem, and if they are, they are not personally affected by the problem, and therefore not particularly incentivised to address the problem. Happily, in response to the report, I have heard that various radio stations are already planning various schemes to increase the female voice quotient, and I hope these do end up making a palpable difference over the next few years.
But how did it reach the point where the industry has to be harangued to better represent fifty per cent of the populace?
Amongst many radio honchos, the justification for not employing female presenters is the received wisdom that people do not like listening to women – and specifically that even women do not like listening to women.
This ‘fact’ is apparently based on a piece of research, which nobody working in radio today seems to have seen, and if it ever indeed existed it was done decades ago – back when the majority of women on radio were played by Kenny Everett.
Aside from the difficulty of access to the industry and the alleged antipathy of listeners, there’s another possible reason for the paucity of female voices: many of the people I’ve spoken to for the Sound Women podcast have suggested that, in general, women tend to be less apt than their male equivalents to promote themselves, to effect similar confidence, or to be sure that their voices ought to be heard. IE the female talent pool is self-limiting. I wonder whether this is why apparently women are also scarcer in the field of podcasting. Unlike getting into radio, there are almost no barriers to becoming a podcaster: if you want to do it, you can just go ahead and do it.
So: women, speak up. And everybody else, regardless of your gender, be prepared to listen.