In the last 12 months there has been a major push by broadcasters and individual women alike, to get more female experts onto TV and radio shows. Kirsty Walker, the co-founder of 'Hersay', explains what's changing.
There is a new breed of woman on the block. She is successful, knowledgeable and can talk for Britain. Welcome to the female TV expert.
Fed up to the back teeth of white all-male panels speaking on their behalf, these women are banging loudly on the doors of TV producers up and down the country to let them in on the action.
Of course, there is nothing new about expert women. They have been around throughout our history from the female pioneers of science such as Marie Curie through to trailblazing explorers like aviator Amy Johnson.
But what makes the modern female expert different is that she is prepared to shout about her abilities and has the self-confidence to brave male-dominated TV studios in the process. These women recognise that the right media profile is good for business and are increasingly breaking the mould by speaking on issues that have traditionally been seen as the domain of men.
Take space scientist and cosmochemist Natalie Starkey who was all over the airwaves on BBC Breakfast, Radio 4, Horizon and Sky News when the meteorite hit Russia. Or theologian and research fellow Vicky Beeching whose views have been much sought after by broadcaster during the recent election of the new Pope. Vicky Redwood, senior UK Economist at Capital Economics Limited, has also become a regular fixture on our airwaves with her insightful and fluent views on the state of the economy.
The rise of the female TV expert has coincided with a report last year by Sound Women, a pressure group set up to represent women working in radio, which found that 84 per cent of the reporters and guests on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme are men. Research by City University has also found that over a two week period in June 2012, BBC’s News At Ten had nine times the number of male to female experts.
Stung by the criticism, the BBC launched a series of highly popular ‘Expert Women’ training days in a bid to tackle the issue. More than 2,000 women applied for the first BBC Academy female expert training day (there were just 30 places). And the demand for a platform for women to showcase their talents has led to a number of databases springing up around the country which promote female experts.
My company iNHouse Communications launched its own website for female experts called HerSay. Just two weeks after our launch on International Women’s Day, we have more than 500 women on our database covering an enormous field of expertise. Both the quantity and quality of these experts is jaw-dropping.
To date, our experts include volcanologists, cosmologists, geologists, physicists, classicists, neuroscientists and anthropologists. Our database also includes a jet pilot, a racing car stunt driver, a world backgammon champion, the founder of the world famous Green & Blacks chocolate company and even Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft stunt double.
The BBC launched its own women’s expert database and dedicated YouTube channel in an attempt to boost the number of female contributors featured on its TV and radio programmes. Another website called The Women’s Room was set up by postgraduate student Caroline Criado-Perez after Radio 4’s Today Programme invited an all-male panel to discuss women’s issues, breast cancer and teenage contraception for two consecutive days.
Websites like these serve as more than just a forum to advertise women’s talents. They also provide women with the collective confidence that there are others out there who are willing to push themselves forward.
Women too often suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ which makes them believe they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved – despite evidence to the contrary. And while broadcasters share responsibility for ensuring that more women appear on their programmes, women themselves also need to do a better job of collectively promoting themselves.
I speak from personal experience. When I first joined Westminster as a political correspondent for a national newspaper, I was inundated by broadcasters desperate to get a young woman on their shows to talk politics. My first reaction was one of fear about my self-perceived lack of expertise. I eventually overcame this and appeared regularly on live TV.
That is why it is so important that women see more inspirational role models on their TV screen and for women to have the tools to feel confident in front of a camera. HerSay offers our experts support through regular training sessions and networking events from media training and public speaking courses through to professional photography shoots and styling advice.
Ex Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey jokingly compared Radio 4’s Today programme to a “terrible clichéd locker room” fuelled by “unbearable” amounts of testosterone.
What has changed now is that there is an army of female experts queuing up to join the team. It is time for our broadcasters to open the door and let these imposters in.