Gender and equality – in the eyes of the law

Gender and equality – in the eyes of the law

Aspire, the LexisNexis forum for in-house lawyers at the start of their careers took place on Wednesday 4th March 2020 and was facilitated by Sophie Gould. Angela Henshall, External Partners Manager at the BBC London, joined LexisNexis to discuss the importance of inclusion and diversity and the BBC’s 50:50 project.

The 50:50 Project is the biggest collective action on increasing women’s representation in BBC content that there’s ever been. Run by a team of two, the project is managed by Angela who was previously a commissioning editor and journalist for 20 years.

As Angela explained – the idea is a really simple one. Every day they measure the number of women reporters and contributors on their shows.  The aim is to get 50% women every month. Importantly, from the start, the team has been clear that the best guest had to get on air. It's not a quota system.

Changing perceptions – and mindsets. Angela highlighted that the project has helped change the culture at the BBC and the way people think. “It has moved on from a single-sided perspective to one that has become more inclusive and has paved the way for change in the media and other industries”

In the video shown on the evening, those interviewed reiterated this point.

"The biggest challenge we faced was actually perception. Perception that the Arab world does not have enough women experts to meet the 50:50 challenge.  Well, that turned out to be completely wrong" Sam Farah Head of BBC Arabic

"In science, I think 50:50 has really challenged our assumption about how difficult it is to find female contributors in certain subjects" Rami Tzabar Content Editor, BBC Science

Moving the needle

Surprisingly the 50:50 initiative was not started by a woman. It was BBC news presenter Ros Atkins who felt the content they were making was skewed to a male perspective - so sought to address this.

The Project started with one programme in January 2017 - Outside Source. In four months, the programme went from under 40% women contributors to over 50%. Since then the team have been consistently on target - more than 18 months in a row.

From that trial the project grew organically throughout the BBC. By April 2018, 74 English language programmes had signed up.

This phenomenal growth trajectory led the Director-General, Tony Hall set a new challenge for the project. How many BBC teams could reach 50% of women contributors by April 2019? The BBC responded with enthusiasm.

Today there are 500 teams taking part in the 50:50 Project - and the results speak for themselves. Of those that have done 50:50 for 12 months or more - 27% were reaching 50:50 at the start. By April 2019 this had risen to 74% - and behind those numbers you will find some of BBC's best known programmes.

Moreover, the BBC World Service has embraced 50:50 too, with 100+ teams from their language services now signed up. Plus 50:50 are proud that there are other media organisations across the world that are also part of the movement.

The ability to show demonstrable results and show progress on the original vision set out by Ros Atkins was brought home in the testimonials shared by Angela on the evening in her video presentation:

"50:50 has been an opportunity for us to think about how we reflect our audiences better and rise to the challenge of meeting the target" Lizzi Watson, Deputy Editor, News at Six and Ten

"With 50:50 YLE has moved from hoping and trying to actually doing" Elina Ravantti Head of YLE Journalism Academy

"This is a great thing to do, but I'm also greedy for a bigger audience - about the ability to increase our audience by making sure the content that we're creating genuinely reflects the interests of the populations we're serving" Gavin Morris, ABCs Director News, Analysis 7I investigations

What’s in the future – and how can your organisation get involved?

50:50 currently helps ensure BBC content features a wider range of voices.  Now it wants to expand to partner with organisations outside of the media.  It is already working with its first law firm.

So how could you approach 50:50 in your organisation? Angela recommends 3 simple steps:

  • Create a Project Pack, including a pilot team to see how your organisation can implement and report on 50:50
  • Establish a pilot
  • Discuss the importance of highlighting inclusion and diversity in your organisation

Angela reiterated that it is important that a quota system is not implemented.

 “It is still about going for the best possible talent for the role whether male or female. We would never pick a mediocre female over a highly skilled male. But if we are not searching for the women, will not know they are there. Ultimately we always seek the best person for the job”

Angela also highlighted that participation to the programme must be voluntary and relies on self-monitoring.

“It is about incremental progress and celebrating the successes along the way. There is a snowball effect once people are less frightened talking about it, see progress and see the benefits of it.”

Look out for the latest report

The next report on the impact of the 50:50 Project will be released by the BBC in April 2020 via the 50:50 website.

With so many more teams and media organisations involved across the globe, there is great excitement around the results that will be revealed.

Want to learn more about projects like 50:50? Join us at our next Aspire event taking place on 3rd June 2020. Sign-up to the forum and get more details here.

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