If expertise isn't gender equal then..... - Copyright: BBC 2018

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?