The under-representation of women in the technical side of the broadcast industry is easy to see in most companies and walking around shows like NAB and IBC give a palpable sense of this male bias.
There are lot of opinions, feelings and assumptions around this topic. This article takes a look at what we know, what we can show is true and tries to understand how that helps us create a path forward.
I love working in the broadcast industry. There’s so much variety and challenge.
Results from the 2018 Ofcom report into Diversity and equal opportunities in television produced what on the face of it appears to be good news; that in the main 5 broadcasters, gender balance was similar to that of the UK Labour market as a whole. Channel 4, ITV and Viacom showed fewer men employed than the market as a whole.
But dig deeper, and we see that in technical roles, women accounted for only 25% of all roles. Similarly roles for senior management are male-heavy, though with a much smaller deviation from the average. Furthermore, it goes without saying that if a whole swathe of jobs are disproportionately male dominated, then for the average for the broadcaster as a whole to still be in-line with the general UK labour force, there must be jobs which are dominated by females – for anyone aiming for equality, a bias in either direction is bad news.
It’s true for anyone that in order to join an industry, you need to have the opportunity and then overcome and hurdles in your way. Having the ‘opportunity’ starts as a child with your upbringing. A study has shown, for example, that the social skills of children around the age of 5 are a good predictor of the child going to university in later life and shows the importance of helping develop social skills at this age is one of the most important things we can do.
This above is true for both boys and girls, but in a 2014 study we see a difference between the sexes. Activities that are encouraged by parents tend to be different for their sons than their daughters. Taking maths as example, there was a strong correlation between how strongly STEM-related activities were encouraged by parents and how positively a child felt about maths, their confidence in it and the importance the child attached to doing well in the subject.
A recent study showed that engaging girls between 4 and 7 in science meant that when they came to chose their specialisms later at 14+ they were more likely to take STEM courses even if, in the meantime, they were more interested in other subjects. As such, for companies wishing to have a greater choice of technical candidates, getting involved in STEM activities at all ages is an important, if long-term, factor.
Succeeding in a technical broadcast career typically requires two things; having a technical education and knowing the career exists. There are certainly ways into technical roles which don’t require a technical degree or strong technical education, but your chances of succeeding are higher the more STEM education a child has.
In the UK, at the age of 14 children select in the region of 10 subjects to study. While there are some restrictions on the choices, this is the first chance children have to guide their own education and thus have a say in how much STEM is part of their education. This is a key time when the experiences of their childhood to date and their confidence in the subjects come in to play influencing their decisions.
At the age of 16 in the UK, pupils then choose approximately 3 subjects to study in more depth ahead of selecting a further education course or going in to work.
People know there’s a ‘sound guy’ or a ‘camera man’ – to use the terms typically heard – but they don’t know that there are ingest operators, systems engineers, networking specialists for high bandwidth video etc. Ensuring that children and university students understand that TV is not just in front of the camera is a difficult task.
This lack of knowledge is the same across genders. But it’s more important ot expose this knowledge to those who are less self-motived in STEM subjects as they need to act as an incentive .
In the Enterprise
We’ve seen, so far, that equality in opportunities is important throughout one’s life, not only within companies. But for the industry, this is where the benefit lies. McKinsey & Co. showed in this recent study that companies with a better gender balance were more profitable. Morgan Stanley also showed that 3 or more female board members was correlated with higher company profitability and followed this up showing that companies who were innovative in managing their talent, had better productivity and more women on the board.
Better productivity and profitability join improved staff retention, better collaboration and innovation as ways in which companies and staff alike benefit from a gender-balanced company.
Many hiring managers bemoan a skills shortage in technical roles, so it makes no sense to overlook people who could fill a role. Ensuring your company is consciously checking and compensating for any biases – for or against either gender, conscious or otherwise is critical in maximising your ability to hire.
Personally, I have a daughter who’s in the beginning of her school career and of whom, naturally, I’m incredibly proud. I don’t care what she choses to become as she grows up, but whatever it is, I would hate for her to be discriminated against or lack opportunity just because she isn’t male.
Fortunately things have noticeably changed in the Broadcast sector in recent years – not enough, but it is change nonetheless. It is these changes, the organisations and the programmes behind this change which I want to highlight here.
There is a body of evidence, some of which is directly referenced in this article, showing that a better gender balance is beneficial across the board. It makes sense for any self-respecting company to fight for that benefit, to pro-actively hire for diversity. A policy of ‘We’re happy to hire any qualified person of any gender who applies for the role.’ is not sufficient to balance against the inherent biases in our society and unconscious biases in ourselves.