On Wednesday 6th March, with International Women’s Day just around the corner, hundreds of fierce females gathered in Leeds’ Northern Ballet theatre to celebrate how far we have come in the media industry over the years. If you weren’t already feeling empowered in 2019 to fight for equality then a mere glimpse at the line up, with special guest panelists such as BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty and undercover investigative journalist and documentary creator Ellie Flynn, was bound to provide some inspiration to continue our campaign!
Walking into the ballet theatre the excitement and enthusiasm for the media industry and women-supporting-women was palpable. BBC made everyone feel like a celebrity by providing a photography backdrop upon entrance where you could pose for as many Instagram pictures as you desired, making you feel like you were already stepping onto the red (purple) carpet.
The mantra to support and encourage each other ran throughout the whole day! In all six keynote speeches at least one panelist mentioned the necessity to, as Kay Mellor OBE (director and writer of Band of Gold, Fat Friends, Girlfriends and many more) put it: “Leave the door open on your way up”. Not only that, but every panelist was visibly excited to accommodate and kick-start the dreams of the young female audience, providing great advice on the panel as well as sticking around after their presentations to chat to attendees and answer any pressing questions. I had a chance to talk personally to Ravelle Thomas, a production coordinator at True North Leeds who told the most inspiring and hilarious stories of her journey to success: from the struggles of being the only one in her family to go to university, to facing repeated rejection, not even considering a career in TV because “people like me don’t go into TV”, to eventually thinking What the Hell?, calling up her dream company and creating her own position!
What was amazing about this whole conference was that every panelist was positive about women’s current position! While it was acknowledged across the board that there is still more work to be done, with an emphasis on INCLUSIVITY rather than merely diversity to fill a quota, every single woman in that conference room truly believed that women have progressed. We have achieved something. We are fighting. So much so that Annie Price, who began her career by telling the story of her childhood in “Annie out of the Ashes” for BBC3, has only ever worked with female directors and a female crew.
I had the opportunity to interview Lindsey Russell, Presenter of Blue Peter for a quick five minutes and despite how terrified I was for this (meeting a celebrity having never conducted an interview before), I decided to embrace the “Fierce Woman” in me and ask her a couple of questions. As soon as I walked in she put me completely at ease and highlighted, before she had even answered any of my questions regarding female empowerment, that it is easy to actually say “yes” to things you are scared of, you just have to get over that initial 10 seconds of nerves! Clearly, this is what Lindsey had decided too - when I asked her how she got into the world of TV and presenting, she told me that she had entered a competition to become a Blue Peter presenter against 23,000 other applicants because she had always dreamed of becoming the next Davina McCall. If this doesn’t say put your doubts aside and just go for it then I don’t know what does! Lindsey also explained how she is able to do things that would previously have been given to her male co-presenter, such as become a football referee for the day on Blue Peter (which at the moment has an all female camera crew). When asked about women’s current position in the industry and how things can still be improved she stated that a major aim of hers is to teach the young girls watching that they CAN go out and become a builder, they CAN wear a hard hat and a high-vis jacket, there are NO “male” or “female” jobs. However, she did acknowledge that in every industry there are drawbacks and “you will always be faced with people wondering if a man can do it better” but that we are increasingly seeing a more positive outcome for female presenters. Things are beginning to turn around for us!
(Image: Instagram @lindseyjrussell )
Every single piece of advice from these gorgeous and inspirational women was soaked in and valued by the whole audience. Especially for myself, as an English Literature student in my final year of university under the pressure of dissertations, graduation, AND finding a graduate job, I was certainly given a motivational push to keep working because that dream job is attainable! One of the most important lessons that I have learned from these women was not to give up, there ARE positions out there for women and if not then we can create them for ourselves! Amazing women such as Lauren Mahon, founder of GIRLvsCANCER, Stephanie Hirst, presenter for BBC Radio Leeds, and Caroline O’Donoghue, writer of “Promising Young Women” and podcaster of “Sentimental Garbage” have all turned their life experiences, hobbies, or what they think of as their weakness into their unique selling point and created a position for themselves in the media world.
The final message that I will leave you with, which has really stayed with me in the days following the conference, was a word from Renee Hunt, director of Group Digital Platforms at SKY. She said that as females, we are accustomed to apologising for things we are good at. Instead of hiding away our talents or thinking we are not worthy, what we need to be doing is appreciating and advocating for EACH OTHER, as well as valuing OURSELVES and our own skills, knowing what WE are good at and having the confidence to shout about it!
Some final motivation for all you girls out there worried about your future career path:
“Don’t be afraid because you think it’s a ‘guy’s job’! It is important to be bold and do everything you can to break stereotypes. Never ever say no to something; just keep saying yes, because it is becoming more of a woman’s world! I wouldn’t call it a woman’s world yet, but we are getting there slowly but surely. We’ve just got to keep on pushing.” – Lindsey Russell
For more information on upcoming events hosted by the BBC visit their website!