As I pedaled furiously to the first ever meeting of Sound Women at Broadcasting House I mused on why we need something like this in our wonderful world of audio, after all this a business that can treat women very well.
Jenni Murray, Sue Macgregor, Helen Boaden, Margherita Taylor, Lauren Laverne, Annie Nightingale, Jo Whiley – the list is long, ladies are not an invisible force. And I’d read the invitation list so I knew that I was on my way to a meeting with even more of the great and the good. All women. But look, within minutes I was certain that Sound Women is very much a needed and wanted thing. I can give you three factoids to back this up.
Factoid 1 – although women working in radio are better qualified than men (73% have degrees, compared to 60% of men) they won’t be paid as much, on average women earn £2,200 less each year. If you pop this into a compound interest calculator and assume that the average career is 25 years in the making, that means women are losing out to the tune of more than £90,000 over the course of their working life. I don’t know about you but I’d quite like that money in my own wallet.
Factoid 2 – There was a theory 20 years ago that men didn’t like to hear women’s voices on air during the day – I say theory but I don’t recall anyone ever proving it to be true. Surely no one could hold such an arcane view now? But even with no clear audience research proving that to be the case, it’s a myth still being put about, presumably by men fumbling in their wallets for their Spearmint Rhino Loyalty Club Cards.
Factoid 3 – and this is the one that really did it for me. It came from one of the youngest women at the meeting who said she didn’t know whether she needed to act like her male colleagues do in the pub after work in order to stay in the work crowd – Crikey Moses that took me back. I started out at a radio station where in the studio women were completely equal. Or so we thought. But something happened on the ten metre walk from the back door to the pub. The blokes started compiling lists about the newsroom staff called things like ‘top ten girls in poshest order’, the inevitable ‘who would you like to sleep’ with, and ‘girls with most upturned breasts’. And what did I do back then? Did I grab my Germaine Greer Clutch Bag and huff off? No of course I didn’t – I thought I had to stay and sit through it, and even ape their behaviour. I would have been so heartened to belong to a group within the industry that danced round a different Maypole.
It’s basic stuff isn’t it – If we expect our radio stations and our shows to be listened to and enjoyed by women then we really should expect our industry to have the same mores.
And look, by the end of the first meeting we had got so much done. I love an organisation that really works. Maria can do things with post-it notes that no one else can. It will help us get where we want to be.
We have plans for mentoring schemes, we would like to commission some research to find out more about that pay gap, we want to know why many women find it hard to stay in the business after the age of 35 (more men manage it than their female counterparts and only 17 per cent of women ever make it right to the top at board level). And we might even get some T shirts printed with the slogan We Heart Chris Patten as it would appear that he has recognized many of these problems himself – it’s heartening to see that he is not afraid of shouting about it.
Sound Women’s membership is dynamic and forward thinking, its aims are clear and its embrace is warm. I pedaled home feeling heartened to be part of something good.