Back in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, my colleagues in GWEN (the Global Women’s Equality Network at Edelman) helped United for News launch an initiative to increase women’s voices in the media. Currently, only 24 percent of the people we read about, see and hear in the media are women, and when it comes to subject matter experts, that figure falls to a woeful 19 percent.
It felt like a perfect partnership. It represented our ambitions for GWEN and in the media, an environment that so many of us and our clients work with every day. United for News works almost exclusively with media organizations, arming them with best practices and guidelines for how to increase those female voices. So it also felt like an exciting opportunity for us to leverage our global scale and client base on the supply side.
We made three commitments to the partnership: 1) to help develop and nurture female spokespeople via our communications and digital presence training; 2) for Edelman itself to strive for 50:50 spokespeople in the markets in which we operate; and 3) to encourage our clients to empower their female spokespeople by providing research and insights that demonstrate the value of identifying women spokespeople within their organizations—our 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer data on Women and Trust is a great starting point.
To move this commitment forward, in the UK we’ve partnered with the BBC 50:50 Project, which is part of United for News. They’ve probably gone faster and further than almost any other media organization to improve gender representation in their output. What started as an idea in one program in 2017 is now working across 500 BBC teams, including foreign language teams at BBC World Service, where incredible progress is being made despite some challenging cultural barriers.
At the launch of their 50:50 annual progress report we heard from a stream of producers who told us that the moment they actively asked for or insisted on being offered a female spokesperson, these spokespeople appeared, even in those sectors where we are all told there are few. They all said that the effort has changed their programming for the better and also made them think more creatively about the types of guests they want.
There were a number of factors that seem to have made it such a success, but a super simple monitoring and data collection system is at the heart of it—developed for busy program makers by program makers themselves—who completely understood that if you overburden teams with complex process, progress just wouldn’t happen. Ros Atkins, the BBC anchor behind the 50:50 Project, said: “We all knew it was the right thing to do but this simple initiative has moved us from a state of endlessly trying to actually doing something.”
It is no surprise that many of our clients want to do the same thing but also face the same time and commitment issues. We recently held a lunch for some of them, hosted by Ed Williams, Edelman’s CEO of the UK and Vice Chairman of Europe, during which the BBC outlined how the monitoring scheme works and also offered up a team to work with us and our clients on how their approach could be adapted by business. We are in the process of working with five key UK clients about adopting the scheme and we are using it internally here at Edelman to track our own success.
It's an exciting initiative. We’ve shown these clients that our values are aligned with theirs; it’s resulted in conversations at a really senior level and we’ve also offered them a solution supported by the most trusted media brand in the UK.
It’s also the right thing to do. These initiatives are well overdue if we’re to drive trust in the institutions on which we rely for societies to succeed and thrive.
Jo Sheldon is executive director, Media Strategy, Edelman.