Lack of Women in Irish Radio

Whenever I turn on the radio, something always sticks out to me. The times that I tune into the radio are usually peak listening hours, yet I always hear a man’s voice booming back at me. Why aren’t there more women on Irish radio?

I recently spoke to Louise McSharry of RTÉ2 and Paula Healy of Flirt FM 101.3. I wanted to ask how they felt about the gender imbalance on Irish radio. Are women represented enough and what we can do as listeners to help.

In 2015, the NWCI released a report that found female voices got 28% of the broadcasting time on current affairs shows. Do you think this figure has changed in the last 2 years?

Louise: “I hope so. There has certainly been more discussion about the fact that women need to be better represented. So I would like to think that has filtered through to at least some increase.”

Paula: “I don’t follow State and Commercial Radio as much as others might – my main area of interest is other community and specialist international radio. However, it seems like the number of women on current affairs seems to fluctuate, but come back to the same general low percentage. It’s at a particularly low ebb now. Additionally, a lot of women in current affairs broadcast are news readers or behind the scenes in research and production, and not presenting their own shows.”

Recently, Dr Ciara Kelly is taking over George Hooks show on Today Fm, Olivia O’Leary is presenting a new show about poetry on RTÉ1 and Sarah McInerney will host her own show on Newstalk. So this looks like a step in the right direction right? But according to an article by TheJournal.ie, gender imbalance is still a strong problem on Irish radio. In August, the Daily Edge had previously looked at how many women were on prime radio shows. It found that there were ten female presenters in total over the nine channels listened to with RTÉ Radio and 2FM being the highest with four female presenters. Breaking that down, there are usually five shows over the course of the day, women only appear once.

“It must, of course, be noted that there are women presenters broadcasting outside of the peak hours, including mornings, evenings and weekends on Irish stations. There are also many women working in the production, research and management arenas in Irish radio. But when it comes to hearing women’s voices on air during the times when radio is most listened to, female voices are literally absent from some high-profile stations, or in a clear minority on others.”

Perhaps having gender quotas on radio stations is a good step forward for women in radio?

I personally don’t agree with gender quotas. I don’t want it to seem like women have only reached a certain point in their career because they are women. To me it doesn’t seem equal. Women work just as hard as men, have as much talent and charisma. We should have an equal playing field but founded on our terms.

Louise: “Unfortunately , in many cases it seems like women are not getting a fair shot at radio jobs. It would be great if the situation could resolve itself without gender quotas but that doesn’t seem to be happening so something has to change. If that means gender quotas, then so be it. Something has to happen to shake things up and to put an end to the absolutely false but commonly spoken about idea that ‘people just don’t like women on the radio.”

 “I know that some people are averse to gender quotas in any area, but it’s something worth trying, for even a short period to see if it helps address the issue.”- Paula Healy

“The Vincent Browne show was a great example of balance and inclusion on panels working, and at little to no extra cost in resources or finance. I also think that as state broadcasting is publicly funded, representation there is crucial as a reflection of the country it provides a public service to. Gender is just the first of many areas that media should be more representative of the population. Community Radio is leading the way in this regard. Across the sector you can hear many more women on air (at any time of day, and in any role) and also see them in management and governance positions.”

An article from the Irish Examiner in April wrote that perhaps confidence is an issue when it comes to having more women on the radio. Would you agree?

Louise: “From what I’ve read, most men are happy to put themselves forward to speak about a topic they know something about, while women need to feel almost expert on the matter to put themselves forward. I don’t know if that means it’s about confidence, as such, but it certainly means that women need more encouragement to contribute.”

The article also wrote that producers have found that listeners don’t want to hear a woman’s voice, they prefer a man’s. Because it’s what they are used to. Listeners have never been given the time to get used to a female presenters voice.

Paula: “Personally, I do identify with “You can’t be what you can’t see” it’s another mental and confidence barrier to overcome to get on air. Capable and talented female presenters at the station are much less likely to ask for a better timeslot, or more airtime, so I have to give some of them a nudge, or a bit of encouragement.”

Women on Air was set up by Margaret Ward. It is a voluntary networking group that runs events and workshops to help give women the skills and confidence to go on radio and television. If more initiatives like this were available, would this encourage more women to get into radio?

Louise: “It certainly wouldn’t do any harm! I think what would be most powerful in terms of encouraging women to get into radio is them hearing more women on radio. Representation is important. I am so proud of the fact that the station I work for has lots of brilliant women at the helm of shows across the schedule, and certainly is not suffering for it. Other stations need to follow suit. There is no excuse.”

Paula: “I really enjoyed the Women on Air conference I attended a few years ago – it gave me a lot to think about, and a bit of confidence. I also thought Move the Needle by GASH Collective was an excellent initiative – that was an introduction to using CDJs and turntables, beatmatching and Ableton production with leading female Irish producers, DJs and trained teachers. The networking and solidarity element of these events are huge for providing a boost in confidence. More please! I also lecture in NUI Galway Youth Academy, teaching 4-6th class students how to interpret and make their own media. It’s so important to get to young people, and girls in particular at that age to let them know what the possibilities and opportunities are. So they can grow up aiming for a career in the media (or science, or technology or…)”.

So how can we as listeners change this? How can we let producers and radio stations know that we want more female voices on Irish radio? Margaret Ward founded Women on Air on the back of reading an article from Una Mulally about this very subject. People on Twitter jumped into the conversation and change happened, Women on Air was born. By using our voices, we can make a change. It’s 2017 and it’s so important, now more than ever, to have women represented equally in the media.

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Ellie Smyth

Community Manager at GirlCrew
Community Manager for GirlCrew Dublin, YouTuber and podcast addict. Follow my Tweets on @xLadySmythx

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