To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, we were honoured to be joined by two of the biggest powerhouses in top tier news broadcasting with ITV News’ Head of Planning Carol Jordan and 5 News’ Deputy Editor Jess Bulman. Given their combined experience across the likes of NBC, CNN, Sky News and of course ITV and 5 News too, they were the perfect people to help us dissect the state of women in broadcast, in front and behind the camera.
Behind the camera
“We want a newsroom that reflects our audience”
When it comes to the newsroom itself, Carol explained that there has been a huge change evident in gender diversity since she started her career many years ago at ITN. Jess agreed and explained that in general the industry has “come on leaps and bounds”, and there is a real commitment within the sector to make their teams diverse. Jess added that she believes it is essential for the team at the heart of producing to be representative of all people, not only across gender but also across race, sexuality, socioeconomic background and disabilities.
Jess actually revealed that with regards to gender Channel 5 is an anomaly given that their team is one of the few which has more women than men as part of it. However, she acknowledges that there is still a way to go to increase diversity generally because with “different people come different experience and different thought processes” and that is what in turn will make for good programming.
In front of the camera
“Doesn’t have be the top person, has to be the person that best at explaining”
Despite a recent King’s College London study which identified a lack of representation in women over the pandemic, both Carol and Jess were in agreement that they think there has been an increase in senior women across broadcast over this period.
Jess said that while in the past, sectors like science might have been lacking in female spokespeople, the last year has proved that this is not the case. Carol also identified the likes of Kate Bingham who has spearheaded the vaccine taskforce, and believes that many of the frontline workers, that have been spoken to over the pandemic are women.
Jess also referred to how the health correspondents at both ITV and 5 are women and how it’s been easier to access a variety of women due to the likes of zoom, which has opened up interview opportunities for a whole host of people who might not have usually been able to make it into the London studio. In fact, Jess believes this is a pandemic change which is set to continue.
However, aside from who we are seeing, both Carol and Jess discussed the importance of having women and diverse spokespeople on the screen in order “to give young people role models within their environments”. Jess identified 5 News presenter, Claudia Liza, who does this extremely well and often has huge engagement with young black women because as she explained, “when we see people on screen who represent us, we want to engage”.
This is also worth noting when thinking about guests and spokespeople for PR stories, something which both Carol and Jess have to think a lot of about. When asked about representation targets, both Carol and Jess explained that similarly to the BBC they aim for a 50/50 split when it comes to gender across their programme. Carol did point out that “in perfect world we wouldn’t need them” but we’re not there yet and for both 5 News and ITV it is a conversation they have every day.
Though, during discussion on speakers, confidence among women spokespeople appeared to be an issue with Jess highlighting that “women are more reluctant to appear on screen”. She explained that often “men are happier to talk about subjects around their subject” which she doesn’t tend to find with women given an expectation, they put on themselves for conversation needing to be of a “higher-level”, which in the case of 5 News (and ITV based on Carol’s nodding) is not the case.
Jess assured that they are never trying to “trip people up” (something we often tell our clients” and doing some mock interviews before-hand should help women grow the confidence to speak. Carol also explained ITV actually offer media training to help “de-mystify” the experience of interviewing but they also both agreed that for this experience is key.
Interestingly, there also seems to be a misconception among what broadcasters look for as Carol emphasised they want “people to explain issues in a really digestible format” which as Jess referenced to, might not always be the CEO/COO of the company. Ultimately Jess emphasised that the priority for the speaker is someone who can “connect with the audience”.
Now in some cases this might be a man because as Carol explained “we’re not going to not put men on, we do want the best speaker.” However, she also emphasised that there are always “different avenues that we can explore”, including bringing in the likes of a female case study!
So on International Women's Day, it seems clear that the platform is there; now it’s down to all of us to ensure we align to support female speakers. If you are female and haven’t put your hat into the ring before – you should. If you are male think about how you can support.
It is on us.