The BBC's commitment to developing opportunities for women

Head of Diversity, BBC

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The representation of women across political, professional and business life has been widely debated in the past few months.

For broadcasting too, there has been much focus on the role of women both on and off-screen, most recently on the number of expert women used on TV and radio in a campaign by Broadcast magazine.

So, this year's International Women's Day - a day when many around the world hold events to celebrate the achievement of women and inspire other women to achieve in the future -comes at a particularly pertinent moment.

And it seemed an appropriate opportunity to share some of the work we at the BBC have been doing around this issue and to respond on the particular point of the BBC's decision not to sign Broadcast magazine's "pledge" to increase the numbers of expert women on air.

We have shared with Broadcast our whole-hearted support for the pledge's broad principles, but we have at the same time explained why the BBC does not sign up to the numerous pledges, compacts and campaigns that we are periodically invited to endorse. (see our Editorial Guidelines under Impartiality sections 4.4.20 and 22).

We believe a far greater impact and more sustainable outcomes will be achieved if the aims of the pledge are agreed and promoted by the existing industry body for diversity, the Creative Diversity Network (CDN). This approach would allow all broadcasters to work collaboratively to promote women in the industry. As Chair of the CDN, the BBC suggested this approach to CDN CEOs when they met at the end of February and this will be formally proposed to CDN steering group members on 14th March.

Of course, we cannot ignore the fact that society - particularly those areas which are most likely to be the focus of News and Current Affairs - is unequal when it comes to gender balance. 78% of the Cabinet is male as are 79% of MPs in general; 85% of FTSE directors are men and 95% of FTSE chief executives. The same imbalances are replicated in academia, journalism, the judiciary and across most areas of life including at the more senior levels of public office. This is not how it should be, but it is the reality. It is not in spite of - but because of - these challenges, that the BBC makes concerted efforts to encourage more female representation among its programme contributors but also among our presenters, correspondents and the large off-screen workforce, including those who make influential editorial and creative decisions. The BBC's Director General Mark Thompson recently laid out our position in the Daily Mail (9 Feb 2012).

Half of our audiences are female (and so is half of our staff) and intrinsic to our public purpose remit is the BBC's commitment to reflect all society and to give a voice to those who are not always heard or seen as well as to the mainstream. See our Equality Information annual report for more detail.

Our recent work for on-air/on-screen female representation has included:

  • In January this year we published the results of the Serving All Ages Report which we commissioned, in 2011 on behalf of the CDN which sought to uncover (within the context of a broader examination of age portrayal) to what extent audiences are concerned about the visibility of middle aged and older women on screen. Work now begins to share the findings across the industry and develop actions to respond to them.
  • Also in 2011, the BBC led the development of Framework of Actions on Gender Equality to respond to, complement and support the work carried out by the European Commission and European social partners in the field of gender equality and to extend it within the audio-visual sector. The Framework was adopted in October 2011 and covers gender portrayal, as well as addressing gender roles at work, equal pay, equality in decision.
  • Closer to home, in the wake of the Miriam O' Reilly case ruling, we have developed and delivered training on fair selection for nearly 400 managers responsible for appointing presenters across BBC Vision, Audio & Music and Journalism. We have also just developed Diversity Top Tips: Recruiting diverse presenters -to complement the training.

Off-screen, diverse employee representation is equally critical. The BBC employs over 20,000 staff the vast majority of whom do not appear on screen and we have a responsibility as a major public service employer to reflect our audience across the entire workforce.

We have a long track record of developing opportunities for women - in engineering for example - and we know that the look and feel of our output, including how accurately we reflect the modern UK, is directly influenced by those who make key editorial and creative decisions. This must remain a primary focus for us.

Amanda Rice is Head Of Diversity

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