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Royal Society award for initiative inspired by City research into women on air

Academy of Medical Sciences provided media training for more than 100 female experts

by Ed Grover (Senior Communications Officer)

The Academy of Medical Sciences has won a prestigious award for its efforts to get more female experts in the media after the organisation was inspired to act by City, University of London research.

A study by Professor Lis Howell found that male experts outnumbered female experts on the UK’s top broadcast news programmes by an average of 4:1 in 2014.

This prompted the Academy of Medical Sciences to organise media training sessions for women, and this initiative has now been recognised with the Royal Society Athena Prize.

More than 100 women have been through the programme, which includes interview practice in real broadcast studios, and many have since completed high-profile broadcast interviews.

Nick Hillier, director of communications at the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: “City, University of London’s research on the ratio of women experts commenting in the news media provided a solid evidence base for us to develop our programme aimed at increasing the visibility of women scientists in the media.”

He added: “The data from Professor Lis Howell’s initial research and follow up studies has enabled everyone working to improve the ratio to make a sound case for action, to track change and progress and most importantly to ensure the pace of change continues.”

As the UK’s national academy for biomedical and health research, with access to the most senior women experts, the Academy of Medical Sciences said felt it had a role to play in addressing the problem highlighted by Professor Howell’s research.

Making a difference

As part of its initiative, the organisation organised a debut showcase of women scientists at the BBC’s New Broadcasting House, taking 11 media-trained women to present their research to 22 top journalists. Since the event, more than half of the women have done media work they would previously not have done, including on the BBC programme Newsnight.

Professor Howell’s most recent study on the issue, announced at the Women on Air conference in 2018, showed the ratio of male to female experts on flagship news programmes had improved to 2.2:1.

Nick Hillier 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 Royal Society 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 its existing scheme and will be presented with a medal at The Royal Society’s Annual Diversity Conference on 1st November 2018.

Professor Howell said: “This is a well deserved and very exciting award. It is great to see an organisation like the Academy of Medial Sciences actively working to get more women experts on TV and radio news. I am so pleased that City's highlighting of the disproportionately low number of women experts on broadcast news spurred them to do this. Congratulations!"

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