Happy International Women's Day! Today is a day of raising money and awareness for causes around the world. Or in my case, going to a charity cake auction and consuming enough sugar to fuel a small country. As well as the obvious celebrating of women, however, the media likes to use this time of year to raise inequality issues - which isn't exactly celebratory – and this year isn't an exception. An article two days ago on the Guardian website highlighted the BBC's recent refusal to agree to improve their male to female ratio of experts to reach a female total of 30%.
The article explained that the BBC has refused to sign the ratio-improving pledge because they are funded by licence fee payers, so can't endorse individual campaigns. They said that they are "endeavouring, where possible, to increase the use of female spokespeople in all major stories." This makes perfect sense to me. The Guardian, however, bitterly wrote: "the BBC has refused to sign, stating in a piece of semantics worthy of Monty Python that the diversity of its licence fee payers actually rules out signing anything."
The BBC has said that in spite of their lack of action, they do back the principles behind it. It's easy to jump to accusations that they don't really mean this - and that's fair comment. This pledge, however, won't get any closer to eliminating any well-hidden sexism ingrained within the BBC. Perhaps fewer women are going for these roles? Or more men happen to be qualified? The assumption here is that the whole problem lies within BBC recruitment.
Channel 4 and Sky News have both signed the pledge, and it's this part that I find rather disquieting. Signing it is basically agreeing to positively discriminate and I'm sure that I'm not the only one who finds this patronising. Most women would prefer to get hired according to their abilities, not because a potential employer is forced to. This pledge is similar to giving someone with anxiety drugs - it's covering up the problem rather than getting to the root cause and tackling it.
The BBC may be faltering on the diversity side of things - but being pressurised to guarantee a certain number of female spokespeople isn't the way to solve this. Giving women an extra hand up the career ladder isn't the way to equality. Unlike the Guardian, I'm glad they haven't agreed to this, and that isn't just the sugar rush talking.