There are numerous events over the next few weeks celebrating the 40th anniversary of co-education at Oxford. It seems bizarre to think that only 40 years ago, other than a few female-only colleges, Oxford was solely open to men. This term, the University is looking at women in the workplace, ranging from law to media, and asking women how their gender has impacted their position within the professional world.
Jesus College was the driving force behind the first of these events which took place on 8th May and was entitled ‘Women in Media’. It was held at the British Academy in London and was open to both current students and alumni. The evening was structured around a panel discussion between four successful women working within the media industry: Broadcaster and novelist Francine Stock; Sunday Times Education Editor Sian Griffiths; weather presenter and meteorologist Kirsty McCabe, and Head of Editorial Partnerships and Special Projects at the BBC World Service Group, Emily Kasriel.
A 2013 survey showed that only one in five solo radio presenters are female, with that figure falling to one in eight during the peak- time breakfast and drive hours. A separate study from the same year, showed that women accounted for just 22% of national news- paper front page by-lines in nine national papers. These statistics were put to the panellists raising the question, why is it still the case that women remain underrepresented in the media?
They started by stating the obvious: women do have pregnancies, which biologically can’t be changed. Because of this, the majority of
them end up taking a break in their career which leaves them at a disadvantage. Kirsty McCabe commented that she worked for the duration of her pregnancy but was hurt by the abuse she received from (predominantly male) viewers, who didn’t like seeing “a pregnant woman on TV”. The comments ranged from, “Get off our TV” to, “I can’t see Wales”. Kirsty seemed confident enough to take this on the chin but felt that others might be more sensitive.
Then there is the period of time when the children are growing up. The panellists agreed it shouldn’t be the case that women still tend to be the ones that step back from their career to look after their children, but it nevertheless is. The general consensus on part–time work was that the workload isn’t lessened; it is rather a case of fitting five days of work into three, which for many women with children just isn’t manageable.
Emily Kasriel felt that during her career women have worked together and there hasn’t been a competitive edge with her colleagues. However, Sian Griffiths contradicted this believing that older women do feel a threat from the ‘younger models’ entering the industry, fearing that they might lose their jobs. The women collectively claimed that when we read about people who have retired “to spend more time with their families” it is more likely that they have been paid off because a younger option has taken over.
Nevertheless, they made it sound painstakingly difficult to enter this industry. This is somewhat disheartening. Though the occasional ‘younger model’ will manage to obtain a position, for the most part it is extremely tough for women to be successful in media. The fact of the matter is, long-standing employees don’t want to give up their jobs. This leaves the question, how can these statistics change if aspiring women face an impossible task when trying to get their foot through the door?