If expertise isn't gender equal then.....

The BBC has announced that it will have gender equality in expert voices that appear on its shows. This is something of a problem for it’s not immediately obvious that there is in fact gender equality out there in each and every sector of expertise. So, should actual expertise be sacrificed at the altar of equality? Or does that desire to show that women can and do indeed do everything men do trump the BBC’s ability to get actual experts on the air?

The BBC is to insist half of the expert voices heard on news and current affairs programmes are women by next year, it has been announced.

The broadcaster has set a 50:50 gender quota after it came under pressure over its treatment of female staff.

By April 2019, the corporation aims to have an equal number of male and female expert contributors to topical shows, as it increases the number of women on air.

Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the director-general, said the target would “help transform the range of expert voices across the BBC”.

So, say we want an economist to talk about climate change. No, not someone to talk about climate change, nor how we must change capitalist society or recycle plastic bottles. But an actual economist, one steeped in the subject, who actually knows what they’re talking about?

Who you gonna call? Nick Stern is an obvious choice. Sir Partha Dasgupta. Marty Weizman? John Quiggin would do well, he knows his onions here. A true expert, Bill Nordhaus?

Any women we know of? No, not female economists, but female economists who have done the work on climate change? Hmmm.

Or perhaps we’ll see more of this:

For a panel debating tax issues, economist Richard Murphy ought to be the perfect candidate.

Not at the BBC. Instead, Newsnight bosses chose fashion blogger Poppy Dinsey, 25, and Mr Murphy’s junior female colleague, Ellie Mae O’Hagan – all in the name of gender equality.

Yesterday Mr Murphy, 54, a chartered accountant and the head researcher at the Tax Justice Network, branded the decision to leave him off the programme as ‘straightforward discrimination’.

Or to bring the point closer to home. Say we wanted to have a program about the supply of rare earths. This was indeed a big story about 8 years back. Or perhaps we’re even more specific, we want to talk about scandium (yes, NPR has made a segment on that very subject). Who you gonna call?

Think also of the wider issue here. The driver to have a 50/50 gender split is the observation that the real world doesn’t split 50/50 along gender lines. The BBC’s point is to show that women can indeed do everything, thereby to reduce that gender imbalance among career and life choices. This is what it’s about – to show youngsters that there’re no areas off limits as a result of gender. But that the expertise isn’t split 50/50 on gender lines does mean that there’s a certain difficulty in insisting that experts on show must be, no?

We might even argue that as our very point here is that expertise isn’t equally split along gender lines then why should the national broadcaster pretend it is?

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  1. This director general chappie, does he and his board have the consent of the licence-fee payer to implement this policy? Heck no, he doesn’t even have the consent of the licence payer to have the job in the first place. And if he thinks he’s an expert at directing a large organisation he should sack himself for the next 6 months and be replaced with Grace Mugabe or any similar female that doesn’t get accountability. Just saying he should be consistent.

  2. Is there any possibility that on non-expert subjects we might get to hear from an actual man with male attitudes? Someone who might be inclined to dismiss most of the BBC’s coverage of what passes for news as trivial, irrelevant, planted stories, recycled press release, agenda-of-the-day bollocks and womens’ stuff for what it is? And get rid of the female interviewers who can’t either ask a proper question or listen to the reply.

    (It would be really nice if we could pass through the paralysis of identity politics to get to the point where all people are just people. )

  3. The goal here is obviously equality of results rather than equality of opportunity. Since there is not equality of results in society, the BBC must reject high-quality experts. Does the BBC have anyone in management who understands the difference? It would seem that a single female expert on one subject would be the proof that “women can indeed do everything.” If we proceed to insist on a quota for cross-dressing “experts” matching the numbers they claim to have in society, we can reduce the BBC to total joke status.

    +1, Rhoda. I wish Megyn Kelly on the BBC, or that presenter on Fox Radio News whom you can just visualize rolling her eyes as she chuckles out a headline. It is not a “male attitude” to wish for better than drivel, obviously. If it is, then why doesn’t Lord Hall of Birkenstock have it?

    PS – Richard Murphy a victim of “straightforward discrimination”? Isn’t he in favor of it? That is about as rich as the time he was a victim of demands for financial transparency.

  4. One result will be that all the BBC voices in traditional female dominated areas will be female, as it will be easiest there to find qualified voices.

    This will help reinforce these areas — nursing, education, fashion, charity work — as “female” areas. Thereby increasing the gender disparity they (allegedly) wish to reduce.

  5. It’s going to be a problem with regard to Radio 3 presenters. At the moment, the Breakfast presenter is a hopelessly under-qualified male whose lack of knowledge is instantly shown up when one of the many female presenters stands in for him. It will be hard to get gender parity here

    • The current R3 Breakfast is presented by Petroc Trelawny, who generally knows his stuff (though I haven’t listened to it for a while). Were you thinking of Essential Classics and Ian Skelly?

      All the R3 fans I know agree that it’s been hugely dumbed down, with constant encouragement for listeners to tweet their inanities, and bleeding chunks of classical ‘pops’ interspersed with far too much chatter. The concerts, Composer of the Week, Record Review and Music Matters still seem to be mercifully free of this guff, but for how much longer?

      • I gave up on R3 sometime in the early 90s when they went chasing the Classic FM market. Occasionally I turn on my car radio and what I hear convinces me that it not time to go back. The last concert intro I hear sounded more like a commentary on a sporting event.

  6. Good. The real experts will go elsewhere: writing blogs, YouTube videos and the viewers will switch even more to that, helping to kill off the wretched license fee.

    Almost everything the BBC makes is rubbish now. I must catch up on Episodes, but even that’s really a Showtime series. They’ve ruined all sorts of shows that they own.

  7. A female friend of mine at university in the ’80s saw what was happening and played the field – applying for jobs at places with “progressive” policies knowing that they would fast-track her into cushy jobs in the name of equality. I think she’s nicely retired now.

  8. By using Richard Murphy as an expert the BBC has shown that their methods of selecting and vetting experts are no more than finding someone to say what they want to hear so adding a few random women in to the mix isn’t going to make any difference to gravitas of any BBC news item, discussion or debate. Using random left wing gobby comedians on QT was the final straw for me.

    God knows how the likes of real experts like Paul Johnson at the IFS slip through.

  9. When Ladies came into the field of sports reporting there was a feeling they were doing it for a career while the males, like fans, did it out of passion for the game. Turns out i got used to it and realised they’re both doing it for their career. The consumers of sports journalism are still overwhelmingly male but that doesn’t mean men have to produce it. (i want to say that would be falling into worstalls fallacy but that’s another thing perhaps Tim’s fallacy?)

    Where the policy evolved recently is with the pundit (the sports version of expert). Not the announcer or interviewer but the pundit. It was a convention that this was an ex-player, manager someone involved in the game at a high level, at least the level being broadcast/written about. When you are half time in a senior international football match it is not the same to ask the former captain of the woman’s team her expert analysis as it is to ask the former captain of the men’s team. Different levels. Now anyone can talk football, if you doubt it, go into a British pub and mention Arsene Wenger, you’ll get some people who’ll blow you away with the amount of stuff they know and brain time they’ve devoted to the question of whether he should resign or reign in perpetuity. So you ask a question of the Women’s ex captain and you selected the most engaging of them, you’ll definitely get output probably informed knowlegeable output but but you’re still breaking the convention that we only give them a hearing rather the random in the pub because they have some credentials. I can’t see how you can get over the fact that they haven’t played at the same level. Ok maybe i can. You can ignore the experience difference. Gloss over that and maybe like the pioneer female journos people will get used to it. Maybe, but what’s niggling is either it matters you have that experience or it does not. The interesting thing will be that it may well turn out that it does not. That is that pundits fall into the same cliche’s, that punditry is not the same as kicking leather, the game they comment on will have moved on from their playing days. In other words we come back down to all that matters is whether they go down well with the audience. And the problem with the bbc is that they don’t quite have the same incentive to care about they’re audience.