The Academy of Medical Sciences has won the Royal Society Athena Prize for an innovative scheme to increase the number of women experts in the media, it was announced today (Thursday 19 July).
Motivated by the lack of women experts in the media, the Academy developed a unique, hands-on media training programme which includes access to long-term support and media opportunities.
To date 107 women have been through the programme and many have now completed high profile broadcast interviews – some for the first time – including on The Today Programme, Newsnight and Victoria Derbyshire. Many of the women have also provided expert comment for print media including the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror and the Guardian.
Professor Philippa Saunders FMedSci, Academy media training participant, Academy Registrar and Council Member, said:
“The Academy’s unique media training took me from nervous and dubious to informed and empowered. The benefits go FAR beyond building upon one’s own personal profile and media interactions. It made us all better ‘champions’ in our own spheres of interest and created a supportive, connected group of senior women brought together by a common experience and shared goal to promote change in our home institutions.”
In 2014 the ratio of male to female experts on news and current affairs programmes was a shocking 4:1. In response there was a significant push from major broadcasters and individual journalists to increase this ratio, however despite this push broadcasters all said they struggled to find willing women experts. This was backed up by a survey by the Academy of 200 leading female biomedical and health researchers revealing only 6% would be confident to engage with the media.
As the UK’s National Academy for biomedical and health research, with access to the most senior women experts, the Academy’s Communications Team felt they had a role to play. Using survey data and other extensive research the Team developed a bespoke and immersive media training scheme to meet the needs of these senior women researchers.
The training programme is unlike any other in the sector; it uses a training team established specifically to help support and empower women and provides an ‘as live’ experience in a real broadcast studio for a small group of women. Following the training, the Academy’s Communications Team provides a package of support including help signing up to the Science Media Centre database as on-call as well as coaching and mentorship to undertake high profile media interviews.
In January the Academy organised a debut showcase of women scientists at the BBC’s New Broadcasting House, taking 11 media trained women to meet and present their key research topics to 22 top journalists. Since the event over half of the women have done media work they would previously not have done, including a Newsnight interview and filming for CBBC’s BAFTA award winning medical series ‘Operation Ouch!’.
Widespread efforts have improved the ratio of women to men experts in the media to 2.2:1, however there are concerns that the progress is now plateauing – meaning schemes to increase accessibility to women experts are increasingly important.
Tom Feilden, Science Correspondent, The Today Programme, BBC Radio 4, said:
“It’s a real challenge to find women experts willing to say yes to media interviews, particularly going live on the Today programme. Journalists need access to the best experts fast. The Academy’s work has meant there are more women experts ready, willing and able to say yes.
“Having a group of women scientists come into the BBC offices this January was a radical idea and a brilliant way to help us address the gender imbalance in the media. I know it was really useful and lots of the women who came have now worked with me and my colleagues on science stories and programmes.”
Fiona Fox, Chief Executive of the Science Media Centre and prize nominator, said:
“The media are increasingly looking for a balance of genders in news output, which we welcome. But their ambitious quotas can sometimes lead to crude requests for a particular gender rather than the best expert.
“The wonderful thing about the Academy of Medical Sciences’ work is that its passion for gender equality is matched by its passion for scientific excellence. By training and encouraging their women Fellows to embrace opportunities to be in the news the Academy has ensured that the wider public are hearing more from the women scientists who are at the very top of their game.”
Nick Hillier, Director of Communications at The Academy of Medical Sciences, said:
“We are delighted to have played a part in increasing the number of women experts in the media and are determined to keep up this important work. Not just to ensure journalists have access to the best experts available, but also to provide highly visible role models of senior scientists to inspire the next generation of women researchers and scientific leaders.
“After the success of our first media showcase we plan on holding similar events, again with the BBC, and also with ITN and Channel 4 News. We also want to explore how best to support more BAME women experts to undertake media interviews through training and media promotion.”
The Athena prize celebrates individuals and teams that have made an exceptional contribution to advancing diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) communities. The Academy will be awarded £5,000 to develop their existing scheme and will be presented with a medal at the Royal Society’s Annual Diversity Conference on 1 November 2018.
On hearing the good news Dame Fiona Caldicott DBE FMedSci, Academy media training participant, Chair of the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the National Data Guardian for Health and Care in England, said:
“It is important that more women who work in professions such as medicine, science and technology are visible in the media as experts in their fields. I wholeheartedly commend The Academy of Medical Sciences’ initiative to address media underrepresentation by building women’s confidence in media handling, and send my warm congratulations to the team behind the scheme for winning this award.”
To read more about our media training for women visit this page
Find out more about our media showcase of experts click here
The Royal Society Athena Prize is awarded biennially (in even years) for individuals and teams, working in UK academic and research communities, who have contributed most to the advancement of diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) within their communities. The recipients of the prize receive a medal and a gift of £5,000.
Media Woman UK is the company The Academy of Medical Sciences worked with to pilot their media training scheme and work with currently to deliver this bespoke training. The programme is partly funded by the Academy and we have leveraged additional supported from the Wellcome Trust and from the Royal Society, Medical Research Council and Royal College of Physicians as part of our SUSTAIN programme. To support sustainability we have also worked with participants to help them secure funds directly from their institution/funders and we are now able to run 2-3 fully funded training sessions per year.
- Research by City University, London: Women Experts – or lack of them – on TV and radio news, Professor Lis Howell, National Union of Journalists, 25th April 2014.
- Research by City University, London: Improvements in proportion of expert women appearing in the news may have stalled, study finds, Professor Lis Howell, City news, 14th June 2018