Angela Henshall is one of the producers on The 50:50 Project, the BBC’s biggest collective action to increase women’s representation in content. It is a system for tracking gender balance, reporters use it as a practical tool to help them achieve a 50:50 representation of women in their content. What started with one show in the BBC newsroom has expanded to 600 BBC teams, and grown into a global network with more than 50 partner organisations from many different countries.
"The media has a big role to play in terms of promoting gender equality. The images that everyone sees in front of them, whether that’s on social media or the news, have a significant impact on how you feel about the world and your place in it. I think representing women more equally is crucial to your understanding of the world. Addressing this is long overdue from my perspective.
I think that you still see stereotypes of women in the media. In the UK for instance, we often find that there is a greater focus on women as victims within news stories. My personal response to that is often to switch off. There are so many ways you can get your news these days. You don't have to stick with the channel that doesn't fairly represent you or your voice.
Most BBC reporters have had moments during their career where they felt men were over-represented in the content. I certainly felt that most of the sources that we went to were male, most of the experts we interviewed were male, and even the reporters in the reporting teams were mostly male. Women are half of society, why are things skewed so much in one direction?
There were a lot of producers and reporters who wanted to take action. That's how The 50:50 Project started, it came from the producers and reporters in the newsroom itself. There was a need for a very practical approach to increase female representation in the media. The tracking system had to be very simple and accessible: reporters just work it into their process to count the number of women represented in programmes or online as they go.
I think that the counting in itself has a significant benefit, in that it sensitises people to what they're already doing. A lot of reporters wouldn't necessarily have understood that their content was featuring more men than women, until they counted. This mindset shift brings cultural change. During the 50:50 Challenge month in April 2019, 74% of teams who had been taking part for 12 months or more hit the 50% mark of female contributors in their content. There are now 600 BBC teams across every genre of content participating worldwide, and the project keeps on growing."