Woman radio presenter

Silence not golden for women

There’s a magic to radio that draws in the listener.  Invisible voices spin a tale, debate an issue or captivate their audiences with a personal story.

But why are some voices so notably absent?

A 2015 report into gender balance on Irish radio found that male voices accounted for 72 per cent of Irish news and current affairs radio broadcasting.

Almost two years on, new research conducted by DCU’s Institute for Future Media and Journalism (FuJo) on the gender balance of business radio programmes points to little change.

The report, based on a ten-week analysis of business radio programming in Ireland, focuses on the business programmes of three radio stations: Newstalk, RTÉ Radio 1, and Today FM.

Its results are stark: male guests are more prominent across all three stations accounting for 58 per cent of guests on RTÉ, 64 per cent on Today FM, and 74 per cent on Newstalk.

The report also points to a strong gender bias in specific business areas, such as finance. Of the thirteen finance professionals featured on Today FM, only two were female. On RTÉ, only one of six finance professionals featured on the programme was female.

Dr Jane Suiter, director of DCU’s FuJo institute, believes that without more data on gender balance on the airwaves, driving change will be difficult.

“There should be ongoing tracking done,” Suiter says. “The only way to get change is ongoing monitoring. I’d expect a shift if targets were set for broadcasters, or if reporting was required. Gently gently does not work.”

Such a move looks set to be on the way, based on the latest indications from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). In late February, the BAI unveiled its latest strategy document – which runs until 2019 – and makes specific reference to a focus on equality and diversity on Irish TV and radio.

The broadcasting regulator’s chairman Pauric Travers told The Irish Times that the BAI was considering how it could maximise progress on gender and diversity. “We want to build that into how broadcasters report to us,” he said during a February interview with the newspaper.

According to Suiter, part of the problem is inertia. “Often it is easy to call the person who you know can perform,” she says.

Beyond the gender issues this can create, it causes broader problems too, with Suiter suggesting that a limited number of talking heads can create so-called groupthink. “When you go to the same people all the time, they tend to repeat the same things, and that’s not good for society,” she says. “Producers should be encouraged to go further down the contacts list, to make a little more effort.”

Panel discussions, she says, should be the start point. “There’s normally more time, a longer lead in, so it is easier to change,” she says.

The latest research reveals that on a week to week basis, RTÉ is the only station which sometimes features more women than men on its business programmes.

Public sector broadcasters, Suiter says, tend to do better when it comes to diversity and inclusion. “It is part of the mandate,” she says.

But surely making radio programmes that resonate with female listeners is about more than a diversity charter? There’s a commercial logic to it for a start, Suiter believes.

Beyond the radio industry needing to up its game, there’s also a job for women to do too. “Saying yes,” Suiter says. “Women can be more reluctant, but with more women on air, there will be more role models.”