BBC seeks gender balance on expert contributors with 50:50 Challenge

The BBC has announced that it is seeking to ensure that there is a 50:50 split of expert voices across its airwaves in news, current affairs and a range of topical programmes, by April 2019.

Published: 2 April 2018
We are starting to see a real transformation across the BBC. But we want to go further and faster. The success already delivered demonstrates the desire and commitment of BBC teams to lead the way on this important issue.
— Fran Unsworth, Director of News

This builds on the success of a grassroots project which has already increased the balance of experts on many of the BBC’s news programmes.

Outside Source, which is simulcast on the BBC News Channel and BBC World News, adopted the system of self monitoring in January 2017 and by April last year had achieved a 50:50 gender split which has continued since then.

The success of the 50:50 challenge has led to other teams at the BBC following suit and expanded rapidly with programmes such as The One Show and BBC News at Six and Ten being some of the latest to sign up. Over 80 programmes from across the BBC, both within News and beyond, are now taking part in the challenge.

Many programmes have seen uplift in gender balance since recording their figures including The Andrew Marr show on BBC One and Radio 4’s File on 4 which have seen a rise of more than 10% in expert female contributors and reporters.

Tony Hall, BBC Director-General, says: “This is a fantastic project that is already driving change. The results from programmes that have taken it up have been remarkable. Adopting it more widely will help transform the range of expert voices across the BBC.”

Fran Unsworth, BBC Director of News, says: “We are starting to see a real transformation across the BBC. But we want to go further and faster. The success already delivered demonstrates the desire and commitment of BBC teams to lead the way on this important issue. That’s why, the BBC is now setting the challenge of all programmes - on both radio and TV - that use expert contributors, to meet a 50/50 split of contributors by April 2019.

“The BBC will produce report on the progress at that time. We can and are delivering change. The BBC is happy to share its experience of this project with other broadcasters and news organisations who might want to adopt a similar approach.”

The BBC will always interview the relevant minister, official, or organisational representative appropriate to a story as they are the individuals in charge or are accountable. This concept is focused on 'expert contributors', who comment or report on events or bring particular expertise to a news story or item and will be measured across each month. Some programmes which already have a focus on gender would not be expected to achieve a 50:50 balance because of the very nature of the programme’s editorial remit.

Ros Atkins, presenter of Outside Source, has been the driving force in the project, alongside former editor Rebecca Bailey.

Ros Atkins says: “When Outside Source started this project the aim was to further improve the quality of our programme and bring fresh and engaging expert contributors to our audiences. I’m delighted that other teams across the BBC are just as passionate about this as I am and we’ve seen fantastic results from those already adopting the monthly monitoring approach so far. The ambition is to reach many more teams with the 50:50 challenge and ensure we have a strong network of contacts so we can increase the representation of expert female contributors on air.”

Rebecca Bailey says: “I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved so far with the 50:50 project. Balancing Outside Source was a great start, but seeing it spread across the BBC as programmes voluntarily took it up has been immensely satisfying. I look forward to seeing even more progress as other teams join.”

The BBC is committed to more female representation. Its Expert Women scheme, which launched in 2012, aims to help media train more women in a series of free media familiarisation days held in London, Salford, Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast during the last five years. More than 100 women have taken part to date with several new media careers being launched along the way.

The BBC’s 100 Women initiative, launched by its editor Fiona Crack, and now in its fifth year, showcases women’s voices and stories across its global output, including publishing an annual list of inspirational women. The project has won a prestigious Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media.

The BBC has already pledged to increase women on screen, on air and in lead roles to 50% in 2020.