Media Parents

“TV – No Career for a Woman?” RTS Debate

December 6, 2010 @ 2:45 pm Posted in Events, News Comments

On November 17th Media Parents Series Producer Alison Martin organised a debate for the RTS in Southampton called “TV – No Career for a Woman?”  Here’s Alison’s summary of who was there and what was said. is working to provide solutions to many of the issues raised below so do join us!

The "TV - No Career for a Woman?" panel in Southampton

  • Mandy Cooper (Former TV Producer now Head of Communications at Dorset Cereals)
  • Lorraine Heggessey (Former controller BBC1 and CEO Talkback)
  • Dermot Caulfield (Series Editor, Bang Goes The Theory – a single dad with 3 small kids)
  • Ruth Pitt (Executive Producer and Screen Yorkshire Board Member)
  • Fiona Phillips (TV Presenter and Journalist)
  • Jo Ball (MD Ricochet)

Here are the headlines:

  • People were shocked by the Skillset report findings in terms of women leaving the industry over the last 3 years (750 men versus 5000 women)
  • It may be easier for women to get into television, but it’s getting harder to keep them
  • There was disagreement over whether the Miriam O’Reilly case shows ageism or not
  • Women are making enormous sacrifices to stay in TV, and many are giving up because they can’t see a way to balance work and home
  • Lorraine and Fiona had some great anecdotes about their struggle to the top
  • A rough manifesto for change was put forward

Lorraine Heggessey (right)

LORRAINE HEGGESSEY: (making her first appearance on a public stage since leaving Talkback)

  • “I know Jay and it’s not true she dislikes women” (re O’Reilly case)
  • Argued that moving Countryfile to primetime was “a hugely courageous decision”, and you have to consider what’s right for the slot
  • Says dozens of beautiful young women come to see her, wanting to be presenters, and they won’t stand a chance because they don’t have that special something
  • Told a hilarious story about having to have dinner at short notice with the gangster Mad Frankie Fraser when one of her daughters was a baby – she took her to the restaurant and had to breastfeed her in front of him
  • Was shocked at the Skillset figures and wondered whether women took redundancy because the blokes would fight, so the women would say “all right, I’ll go then”
  • Said that earlier in her career she felt she had to “out-bloke the blokes”
  • People assumed when she got the BBC1 job that she would be useless until proved brilliant, whereas people assume men are brilliant until proved otherwise
  • Thinks women are getting better at asking for more money
  • Describes one Sunday evening when she was trying to match her daughter’s white socks ready for school, and she thought to herself “I bet Alan Yentob doesn’t have to do this!”
  • Has always paid to get the housework done, so she can concentrate on the kids

Fiona Phillips and the panel at RTS No Career for a Woman Event


  • Has battled to find a work/family balance, which often led to clashes with her husband over child-care
  • Once had to interview Victoria Beckham at short notice and couldn’t find childcare, so took her baby with her and fortunately Posh’s mum was there and ‘scooped my baby up’ and looked after him. She recalls her son playing on a mat with Brooklyn
  • Says she “finds it cringeworthy” to think about what Miriam O’Reilly is doing, because presenters “have to get on with it and take the good times with the bad”. But she laments that there are not more older women on screen (she loved watching Cilla Black) and asks why, by contrast, there are “so many wrinkly old blokes” instead
  • Still feels guilty that she was working too hard when her mother was ill
  • Recalled one former boss calling her into his room (he had his feet on the desk) and demanding “Phillips, darn my socks will you!”
  • Says she sometimes wishes she had “a real profession…I always wanted to be a doctor”!

Jo Ball, MD Ricochet, right


  • Was a single parent from the start of her career
  • Struggled to find a balance in the early years
  • Thinks “maybe we should all have babies a bit younger”
  • Recommends women move to the regions to improve their chances of getting a work-life balance
  • Says work pressures are “probably the reason why I only have one child”
  • Also thinks “you have to accept that having a child is going to eat into your time
  • Argues strongly that age and beauty are not the issues around women presenters. “it’s not about how you look, it’s about personality”
  • Points to Sarah Beeny as the quintessential woman on screen. “She’s a brilliant presenter with 4 kids. She does it her way”. Thinks women generally should be a bit more ballsy
  • Fights hard to keep her top women staff whatever their domestic commitments – “Some people are just too valuable to lose”

Mandy Cooper, ex TV Producer, left


  • Left the industry (was a series producer at the BBC) because she wanted a better work-life balance
  • Moved to Dorset to raise her family
  • Laments the collapse of TV jobs in the regions, which afford many women a better balance and often give them access to relatives who can help with childcare
  • You also avoid long commutes, ie wasting hours on the train when you could be at home with the kids
  • “TV’s not the only job there is”!
  • Loves her work in PR
  • Mentors are a really useful way of helping women stay on track in their TV careers


  • Became a single dad of three kids under 10 when his wife died a couple of years ago
  • Was treated “like a minor celebrity” by other people, which single mums never get
  • Culture of presentee-ism is problematic: “doing the job well is not about how long you stay in the office”
  • Admits he rarely goes filming in order to manage his family commitments better
  • Says he became a dad very early and felt isolated from the other blokes he worked with, because they were always going out while he stayed in
  • Didn’t quite realise how much support he’d had from his wife (a doctor) until he lost her
  • Argues that it’s easier for people in the higher echelons to manage family commitments, because they have the cash to sort childcare etc
  • Competition for jobs doesn’t help women with restricted working hours: “I advertised for a runner and had over 100 applications. With that kind of competition you’re going to employ the person best placed to give you 100%”

Ruth Pitt chaired the panel and invited comment from the audience

  • One woman said she had an abortion so she could take a job
  • One said she had just left the BBC at 42, disillusioned, had sacrificed having kids for her career – and now feels she made a big mistake
  • One said she felt ‘over the top’ at 35 and was wondering ‘what next’
  • One was a PHD student, investigating the gender gap in TV with Skillset
  • Several people said the collapse of ITV in the regions had been devastating for many women
  • One man said “let’s face it, women are better than men!”


The panel agreed the following could help keep women in TV:

  • More flexible working (but NOT full-time work for part-time pay) is a great place to find flexible working options – or any jobs – we let the talent choose if the work is right.
  • Good mentoring schemes The Women in Film & TV scheme is up and running but full for this year,  Media Parents has been approached by companies offering to mentor so if you’re interested either as a mentor or mentee please email
  • More opportunities in the regions, where work-life balance is easier to achieve Media Parents is going regional – join us at one of the Christmas Parties, and watch out for much more regional activity from early 2011
  • Support for women to set up their own companies Media Parents blog, facebook and watercooler are all great places to share information and resources
  • More high-profile role models not afraid to talk openly about their commitments Read the Media Parents blog to see some of the great events that have given people a platform to talk about their experiences this year – and if you have something to say please make contact
  • More job-sharing enables you to find other freelancers with a similar skillsbase, and indicate to employers who your chosen jobshare partners would be.  See elsewhere on the Media Parents site and for information about companies who support flexible working in media, and how to approach them.

Media Parents member Alison Martin


Alison Martin trained as a journalist at ITN. She reported and presented for Meridian’s regional politics programme and ITV – “…on the day Diana, Princess of Wales died I was part of ITV’s presenting team tasked with telling the nation the terrible news.”

A life on the road beckoned… After a stint as a Senior Producer at GMTV Alison switched to the BBC producing Watchdog and then Rogue Traders. “Whilst making Rogue I fell pregnant. I spent the nine months squeezing my bump into cramped vans as we filmed undercover. When it came to confronting the rogues I was ordered to stand behind a burly security guard!”

Alison was part of the start up team for the BBC’s flagship early evening magazine – The ONE Show where she was responsible for the topical and current affairs output. Now she freelances in TV and is developing her writing and presenting work.  Find her at

by Amy Walker


  1. I’ve just come across the RTS debate: TV – No Career for a Woman – and felt the comments by Fiona Phillips in particular needed a response. She “finds it cringeworthy” to think about my ageist/sexist claim against the BBC, but at the same time “laments” that there are not more older women on screen and asks why by contrast there are so many “wrinkly old blokes” instead. Did she really think this comment through before she made it. If I didn’t take a legal stand when I and the three other middle-aged women were dropped from Countryfile then nothing would change and we would continue to lose older women from our screens when older men are allowed to stay. If Ms Phillips and the other panelists had bothered to look into the detail of my case then I believe they wouldn’t be so dismissive of my claim. What happened to me was “cringeworthy”. Of course none of the panelists would have seen our leaving party invitation which was put together by a young assistant producer. The heads of us four women were superimposed onto the bodies of four old age pensioners, with inviting line that the bar we were going to offered “OAP concessions on Thursday nights”. At the time no-one thought this ill conceived or inappropriate, as it was widely believed to be the reason we were dropped. The BBC is worth more than this. Because of my stand, negative attitudes towards older women in TV will change.

  2. Miriam O'Reilly on December 16th, 2010 at 12:18 pm
  3. Congratulations on your ruling today Miriam, how do you feel about it?

  4. Amy Walker on January 11th, 2011 at 4:39 pm

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