On 31 March, Dr Sarah Charman, Reader in Criminology, Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, was at BBC Broadcasting House in London. Sarah was with 23 other women, selected from 450 applicants, to take part in 2017 BBC Expert Women Day.
Sarah said that previous to this – making a two-minute video in an empty office of St George’s Building discussing her area of research as an idea for turning it into a BBC programme – was fun to make and relatively straightforward. However, she went on to comment: ‘Fast forward a month where you find yourself in a strikingly familiar BBC studio, answering questions on an area you don’t feel entirely familiar with, under the bright lights and with large numbers of camera and production staff working around you and the situation is a little bit different. Nerves begin to kick in.
‘But that was really the takeaway message from the 2017 BBC Expert Women Day, which I was fortunate enough to be selected for, along with 23 other women from a pool of over 450 applicants. The message was that you are an expert in your field and that their job was to give us the confidence to talk about that expertise.’
Sarah said that the day’s training involved being filmed in pairs in a television studio with the familiar face of Riz Lateef asking the questions. This was followed by a Radio 4 style ‘Start the Week’ round table discussion in groups of four, trying, in her group’s case, to knit together the themes of archaeology, anti-social behaviour, policing and arts management. The groups also received expert voice coaching and got the opportunity to talk at length to a variety of radio and television editors, producers and journalists. What came across strongly from these discussions was that, whilst producers would very much like to have more women featuring on their programmes, women’s reluctance to appear as experts, coupled with large numbers of male volunteers meant that expediency tends to win out.
So, a day that began with an enormous amount of trepidation ended very differently for Sarah. She said that the women she met that day were intelligent, engaging, communicative and incredibly supportive. They listened to each other and created an atmosphere of constructive debate, even when there were disagreements in views, which is so often not a feature of current offerings within the media. Women are hugely under-represented on both radio and television as expert commentators, particularly in the fields of politics, terrorism, policing, security, technology and economics.
Sarah said that: ‘The advice was to stop apologising for being an expert, to stop prevaricating about putting yourself forward and to have more confidence in your abilities.’
Sophia Cannon, Barrister and Broadcaster who closed the day, ended by informing the group: ‘You’re here, not just because you’re women, not just because you’re dynamic, not just because you’re expert – but because you know it. Grasp that nettle.’
Photos and a video of the day can be found here.