Do Women Need Role Models?

There was a lot of debate just before Christmas about the lack of any women on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year (Read this from the Guardian by Jeanette Kwakye, a British Sprinter). Does it matter or is it just a case of women whining about nothing much?

I think it does matter and it matters a lot. It particularly matters to young women of any ethnicity if they never see anyone in the public eye of their gender or culture. In fact, it probably matters to society as a whole. We all need role models.


A recent University of Massachusetts Amherst study found having academic contact with female professionals in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) can have positive influences on students—female students in particular. For girls and young women studying these subjects in school, being able to identify female role models helps them imagine themselves as STEM professionals. The role models enhance their perceptions of such careers and boost their confidence in studying such subjects.

Similarly there has been a lot of national angst about the lack of male teachers in primary schools and the desirability for young boys to have male role models. Because it matters to all of us. Seeing people like us achieving spurs us on to achieve for ourselves. The messages sent out by role models are strong and powerful.


During the Christmas period I had one of those, have I woken up in the 1950s? moments. I was lying in bed, relishing not having to be anywhere in particular with BBC radio gently playing in the background (I am an addict). I wasn’t especially listening to the content, just the comforting voices of Justin Webb and Evan Davis, my favourite combination. After a while I realised that I hadn’t heard any female voices at all; not a presenter (they have 5 presenters and 1 is a woman, the excellent Sarah Montague), not forecasting the weather, and not as a contributor. Eventually of course a woman’s voice was heard but I think she was preceded by about an hour of men talking (Newsnight by the way, is generally much better at finding a more representative mix to talk on serious topics – kudos to them).

I tweeted the adorable Evan and asked about it. He replied that they had 2 guest editors coming up who were women, (they were good; I managed to be fully awake for them) but it isn’t really the point.

Similarly with other festive TV. Of the quizzes or comedy panels I watched some didn’t even manage to muster one token women and were totally male. Of those that did the men always outnumbered the women. Always. It’s very obvious in comedy (by the way, look out for an interview with Lynne Parker who runs Funny Women soon.) I can’t believe that the viewing public don’t think women are funny (thinking immediately of Ab Fab and Sarah Millican) or that there aren’t female comics out there available for panel shows!

So come on media folks, the BBC in particular. You are funded by the viewing public so do your best to represent ALL of the viewing public, particularly on serious current affairs programmes. I’m not saying every programme should have a 50/50 split, or that I don’t enjoy the male contributors, I do. But I do believe that our national broadcaster should make a huge effort to be representative. It matters, it really does matter.

If you enjoyed this post you may also like Women, where’s your ambition?

PS MY Twitter name is @JaneCWoods if you care to join in the discussions any time!



Posted on January 2nd, 2012 by

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