Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign and editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign and editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

Recognising the gender imbalance in radio is a significant first milestone

Is the radio industry institutionally sexist? It's a difficult question, but one that's hard to avoid following the first-ever attempt to record just who is fronting today's radio shows.

Radio has played a major role in shaping and defining lives in Britain since the BBC’s first broadcast in 1922. It now enjoys record weekly audiences in excess of 47 million (more than 90 per cent of adults) – making its bias towards male voices all the more incongruous.

For some lifestyle-specific stations, it’s easier to explain away the gender gap. At talkSPORT, for example, the focus is on the male-dominated worlds of football, cricket and rugby.

Critics will point to the rise of female interest and participation in these sports but, for the home of presenters such as Andy Gray, Danny Kelly, Ray Parlour and Stan Collymore, the remit is clear. Males make up 81 per cent of all listeners and 95 per cent of its presenters. And, no doubt, such a targeted audience is a major part of talkSPORT’s appeal to advertisers.

But how about the make-up across the undisputedly general-interest stations? Radio 2’s daytime schedule is currently dominated by Chris Evans, Ken Bruce, Jeremy Vine, Steve Wright and Simon Mayo. No wonder the fantastic Jo Whiley is such a breath of fresh air come 8pm.

'There is no gender problem in media agencies – something the female pioneers should rightly feel proud about'

And it's certainly not just a BBC problem. For every Kate Lawler (Kerrang!), Margherita Taylor (Classic FM and Heart) and Angie Greaves (Magic), there are many more men. Linda Smith, the executive chairman of the Radio Advertising Bureau, agrees it’s a problem but warns it is far from radio’s alone.

She says: "The truth is, these figures mirror to a large degree the broader reality that across business, government, sport, whatever industry you care to name, for the most part there are too few women in senior or 'front facing' positions."

When it comes to media owners, this is something I’ve been made aware of recently amid attempts to create balanced judging panels for this year’s Campaign Media and Media Week Awards. There is no such problem in media agencies – something the female pioneers of the past two decades should feel proud about.

Of course, recognising the problem is only the first step; it gets rather more complicated after that. I still recall the mixed emotions at Wacl’s February dinner when the Sainsbury’s chief executive, Justin King, said he didn’t feel he had to redress the male bias on his board because he was only focused on employing the best person for the job. Half the room cheered; the rest shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

Initiatives such as the Sound Women study are a welcome first step. And it’s already having an impact. Following the findings, Absolute Radio intends to hold a new demo open day, designed to help find and develop future female talent. Hopefully more will follow.