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Natalie Asprey
Natalie Asprey
Marketing Communications Manager

When it’s all about gender, can it still about the right person for the job?

We operate in an industry where women are under-represented, we know about the numbers, just 17% of UK tech workers are female and we know there’s a lot of work going on to change those figures and deliver more women into the technology workforce but, what happens when the focus is only on addressing gender inequality – does the right talent fit get forgotten?

The media industry suffers from the same problems as the tech industry, women are under-represented, and recently we’ve watched with interest an attempt to rebalance this at the BBC’s Radio 2 station. Earlier this year the corporation came under fire for its gender inequality namely that it’s daytime line up featured only white males over the age of 50, all of whom it must be said pulling in millions of listeners and therefore fulfilling the requirements of their roles more than adequately, nonetheless the BBC listened to its critics and took action with the introduction of a female voice to its daytime schedule in the form of Jo Whiley teamed up with stalwart broadcaster Simon Mayo to host a revamped version of his already successful drivetime show, and it’s this move which we find most interesting.

Putting the gender issue aside for a moment, the rationale behind this change appears unclear, in basic terms the post is already held by someone else – who isn’t leaving and therefore appears to be ‘being forced’ to job share and there appears to be no issue with performance – 6m listeners isn’t a figure to be sniffed at but when directly questioned on whether the move was about addressing gender equality the BBC’s Lewis Carnie stated it was never about that and that it was always about revamping the show.

So, looking at this on a purely ‘right fit’ for the job basis , it would be clear to most that Whiley, Former Radio 1 Evening Session, and Live Lounge host, who prides herself on being an ambassador for new music and who delivers a generally laid-back style of presenting would not be suitable for an upbeat drivetime show getting people home after a hard day, what she was however was an experienced DJ for certain and most importantly in this case female.

The show struggled, fans complained, the BBC was forced to issue a statement in full support of the pairing of Whiley and Mayo, but the writing was on the wall. In October 2018, just 5 months after the revamped show launched, Mayo announced his departure from the station and despite the BBC’s previous support of her, Whiley would be moved to a 7 pm slot – a glaring admission that she was never the right fit for the job in the first place.

Last week the BBC announced the Radio 2 Drivetime host from January 2019 would be the talented Sara Cox and whilst many applauded the appointment as the right choice, with the right personality for the show there were also critics who maintained that she too only got the job because she was a woman and that’s the problem when there’s too much focus on gender and not enough on the right talent for the job.

It’s a cautionary tale for businesses feeling the pressure to employ a woman just to address equality issues and we can’t stress enough the need to ensure that talent searches are exactly that, focused on talent, if they’re not the fall out can be incredibly messy, in this case, the loss of a highly talented employee in Mayo, the effective demotion of another talented and skilled employee in Whiley and a promotion for another employee but with a question mark over whether it’s about gender or talent and with a hard lesson learned in the process for all involved.

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