Thursday 21 November 2013

The ghosts of Stationers' Hall

In 1403 an enterprising group of booksellers (known as stationers) set up a fraternity of tradesmen. A few hundred years later in 1670, after the great fire of London, they built themselves a beautiful meeting place, called The Stationers' Hall, a stone's throw from St Paul's Cathedral. They could hardly have predicted that several centuries later, a swarm of opinionated women would storm their hall, ready to challenge the male establishment. Thanks to the London Press Club, we had all been invited to attend a forum on women in media led by a female panel from journalism's frontline. 

Female panellists at the London Press Club event: Women in the media
THE PANEL: Kay Burley (Sky News), Carla Buzasi (Huffington Post), 
Anne McElvoy (Evening Standard), Lisa Markwell (Independent on Sunday), 
Sarah Sands (Evening Standard)
Credit: Nigel Howard / London Evening Standard

"I feel personally that I have got a responsibility in the way we portray women," Carla Buzasi, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post UK, told us in her opening salvo. She believes women bloggers are "worried about putting themselves out there" and has deliberately put female role models on her front page to set an example.

Kay Burley, the veteran Sky News presenter, said Sky was also working hard to improve its representation of women. After noting that only one in seven of its interviewees were women, the broadcaster has now brought this down to one in three. "Women are more hesitant and say that they are not sure they can be in front of the camera," said Kay. "I tell them, 'Of course you can - the only thing holding you back is yourself.'"

On the same theme, Lisa Markwell, editor of The Independent on Sunday, revealed that she had recently nixed a risque photograph of actress/singer Miley Cyrus from her front page. As Carla pointed out, "We have female sensibilities that we bring to our roles." 

Sitting in the audience you began to realise that despite small victories in sexual equality, these women were still pioneers, blazing a trail in a land of casual chauvinism. To prove that women still attracted unwarranted criticism, Lisa recalled how a male MP had recently called Kay "a bit dim" on air during an interview. 

It was clear that all of the panelists had worked hard for their careers, making personal sacrifices along the way: the chair, Anne McElvoy of the London Evening Standard, joked she had practically given birth under her desk. Most of the others only took three months maternity leave before they were back at their posts. 

In light of this, it was comforting to hear about Carla's efforts to ensure that her staff had a life outside of the office. "The mothers in my team go home on time." She alone offered a glimpse of a utopian future where women might genuinely be able to balance a successful career with family life. 

I suspect we are still a long way off, but perhaps with more "female sensibilities" in charge, part-time jobs will no longer be the road to nowhere and office hours will tie in with school schedules. Now what would the ghosts of Stationers' Hall make of that?

Listen to my interview on Radio Gorgeous today where I do my bit for the representation of women in the media by talking about the trailblazers of the 1970s.

[To join the debate on Twitter, search under the hashtag #wim]

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