We wrote yesterday about Doctor Who‘s issue with female writers (they don’t have any), but today our attention turns to another aspect of the BBC: Their TV and radio news programs, which have been criticized in the past for their whacked-out ratio of male to female guests. Specifically, male experts are four times more likely to get airtime than female experts. This is in part because journalists’ metaphorical Rolodexes tend to be dude-heavy, but also because, as stated by The New York Times‘ Gail Collins, “women don’t put their hands up as often as men” when it comes to op-ed journalism.
And, wouldn’t you know it, the BBC has acknowledged that this is a problem and decided to do something about it.
What they’ve done is launch an “expert women database,” plus an accompanying YouTube channel, to make it easier for journalists to find female experts to appear on TV or radio. This may appear a little eye roll-y at first; as Jezebel points out, it does remind one of Mitt Romney‘s “binders full of women” approach to finding qualified female candidates.
But I think it’s a good idea. Journalists writing about a subject aren’t necessarily hugely knowledgeable about that subject themselves, and while in an ideal world they’d aim for a bit of diversity in the experts they seek out, as we can see (with the BBC at least), that often doesn’t happen. If the database smoothes the source-hunting process and makes it easier and more convenient—and therefore more likely—to find a female expert in addition to a male to provide their opinion on a given subject, then I’m all for it.
Said Kirsty Walker, co-founder of a UK database of female experts called HerSay:
“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.”
Granted, the program was just launched, and so far it doesn’t have a lot of names. The BBC decides who it’ll include by hosting “Expert Women” training days, where 30 women at a time (2,000 women applied for the first one) receive voice coaching tips and talk about their areas of expertise. So far the database includes 60 women, plus contact information for 120 more who “showed promise” in their “Expert Women” applications.
If you want to clear a lot of women for TV/radio duty at once, that assembly line technique seems to be the way to go. As of last week, nine of the database’s experts have appeared on television.
Four for you, BBC. Now if only your fictional programming would realize that, if you have a sexist gender imbalance, you should probably do something about it. Just a thought.