A very elite set of leading women, from the world of UK media gathered at the grand stationers hall in St Pauls this week, to debate the experience of 'WOMEN IN MEDIA'. In association with Huffington Post and the London Evening Standard, leading figures from TV, print and online addressed the role of women in media.
After the obligatory glass of wine and female laughter filled reception, around 300 women were seated in anticipation to hear five very accomplished panellists speak. Anne McElvoy, very slickly chaired a top-level panel, featuring London Evening Standard editor Sarah Sands, Huffington Post UK editor-in-chief Carla Buzasi, Sky News presenter Kay Burley and The Independent on Sunday editor Lisa Markwell. After our brief welcome by the chairman of the London Press Club Doug Wills, it was straight into hearing the five leaders speak about their adventures, personal anecdotes and confessions.
London Evening Standard Editor Sarah Sands was optimistic about what its like for women in the media, coming from a brand like the Independent group, where there are 2 female editors and 1 non-white editor.
Her company clearly, openly and proudly engages in diversity whilst placing the best people in top roles. She pointed out that women also have a responsibility to other women in the media.
''When we see both sexes portrayed in the media- men are for authority, women are for decoration''
She had us all laughing incredulously as she pointed out 3 stories in a recent copy of the Daily Mail; one about the youngest woman to lead a FTSE company, one about a female serial killer and the last...wait for it...about Fiona Fullerton not wearing any make up! Sarah added
''yes women in nice dresses are great for the front page of a paper and solves front-page 'pretty girl in a skirt' problems but is it any good for furthering the female agenda?''
Huffington Post UK Editor-in-Chief Carla Buzasi admitted that she had been lulled into a false sense of security in her early career, when working at numerous female glossy titles like Marie Claire and Cosmo, where there were mainly female bosses and editors. She admitted she was lucky to have continued her ascent, via women empowering her- like her current boss-one of the most famous women in global media-Arianna Huffington. 'I've had lots of big, positive role models'' she noted.
Carla also revealed that a recent survey had shown that in 2012, only 22% of front-page by-lines were by women. ''Just because we see some women at the top doesn't mean that women are always represented fairly and I feel that responsibility as a female boss, so when we reached out for bloggers at the Huffington post, we championed female bloggers who were often more nervous about being opinionated and judged, by making a conscious effort to ensure we highlighted their bogs on our front pages'' Carla added as an aside, ''I am good cos I hire super smart people to my team''
Carla also revealed her proactive story of how she got her current job. She had heard that the Huffington Post was going to set up in the UK, and researched and e mailed the boss Arianna, and asked for a meeting. They had a breakfast meeting at Charlotte St Hotel, after which Arianna invited Carla to accompany her to a public event, where Arianna announced (a surprise to Carla), that Carla was one of her new UK leaders for her brand. Proof that not all females conform to the stereotype that we are nervous and unconfident at pushing ourselves forwards.
The Independent on Sunday editor Lisa Markwell started
''a problem women in media have, is men in media''.
That really summed up the whole debate. Lisa had us all nodding knowingly, when she recalled her experience at a dinner party, where she had been introduced to group of people as editor of the whole newspaper and was repeatedly asked which 'female area' she edited? Was it the fashion pages? Gossip page? Diary? Food?
However she did give a nod to the male in her life, when revealing that her own husband gave up work for 5 years to look after their young children, and you could clearly hear the audible gasp of disbelief in the room as she told us all this. Lisa was still intrigued by the fact that in many industries (like politics), people were aggressively trying to tap into the female agenda, so why in media was there this huge disconnect with the needs of female readers and the feminist cause?
Sky News presenter Kay Burley was positive about how far our industry had come over the years, and just how many more female role models exist now
''my world in media is unrecognisable now from when I began many years ago. I like to think that I am employed cos I'm a bloody good journalist, and ask the difficult questions, but when I make a mistake the national press jump on me in a way they don't with my male peers''
She reminded us of a well known saying; ''doctors bury their mistakes, lawyers lock up their mistakes, journalists broadcast theirs!''
Kay added to the slaying of certain print press titles, as she showed us the Daily Mirror Saturday feature this week, where alongside a picture of legendary singer Debbie Harry the headline was ''no doubt she's dreaming of her youth''.
Females in media are always judged by their looks. This prompted Kay to openly highlight the fact that she herself has had a face-lift because she ''wanted to look as good as she could for as long as she could'', and not because she was a public face.
Kay also revealed that at her news brand they are making active changes after realising that one in seven of their every one of their interviewees was female. Now that number has changed to one in three, after their commitment to changing that statistic, which is much healthier and diverse. (Wonder if that's why I was on last month? (See, now I am questioning whether i was brought on for my abilities or to change a diversity quota)
Questions from the audience included a need to know just how much time exactly had each panellist taken off for maternity leave? (three months), what did they think about page 3 and the fact that apparently women have been proven to be bigger porn fans than men and more (page three won't be around in the future).
Our chair Anne McElvoy wrapped the evening up nicely when she said ''London is the best place for women in the world, but you've got to sell yourself as well as your stories!''