Last weekend 100 students and 21 guest speakers gathered at Manchester’s International Anthony Burgess Foundation for the inaugural Women in Media Conference, an event seeking to empower and inspire female students pursuing a future career in the media.
Organised by a mostly female team from Manchester Media Group, the event gave students the opportunity to hear from women who have led successful careers in fields ranging from journalism and production to PR and marketing. Delegates not just from Manchester but also from universities as far afield as Stirling attended the event.
Proceedings began with a launch evening on Friday 4th March, which included a welcome speech from Helen Pidd, North of England Editor at The Guardian, as well as live music from local singer-songwriter Sarah De Warren and student band The Vanity Project, winners of the national iSessions competition.
Saturday saw the start of a series of panel discussions, workshops, and keynote speeches, which gave rise to great discussion and invaluable advice from the speakers, but also highlighted the reason why empowerment of female students aspiring to a media career is so badly needed.
Even in student media there is still an undeniable underrepresentation of women, with Chloe Yates, the Student Radio Association’s (SRA) regional officer for the North West revealing that the proportion of female delegates at the SRA’s 2015 national conference was just 1 in 5.
Sam Walker, presenter on BBC Radio 5Live and BBC Radio Manchester acknowledged that much has changed since the days when women’s on-air roles amounted to “laughing at their male co-presenter and reading the traffic”, adding that it was crucial that men be part of the ongoing conversation on women in the media in order for progress to continue.
The final day began with a discussion of BAME representation within the media, led by the women behind The Nubian Times, a Manchester newspaper reaching out to multicultural communities which lack a voice in mainstream media. The remainder of the day’s activities included a discussion of the compatibility of fashion and feminism, featuring Louise Court, director of content at Hearst Magazines, who subsequently shared inspiring words on the importance of resilience and self-belief in her keynote speech.
The conference came to a close with a session featuring BBC North West presenter Beccy Barr, award-winning producer Cat Lewis, and Sarah Kavanagh from the National Union of Journalists, which saw delegates exchange views with the panel on subjects including ageism in the media, challenges faced by working mothers, and the issue of unpaid internships.
Proceeds from the conference will be donated to Manchester Action on Street Health (MASH), a local charity supporting women involved in sex work. Over £800 was raised, and at the time of writing a JustGiving page has been set up to try and boost the total to £1000.
It is hoped that the conference will become an annual event, and planning for 2017’s event is already underway. The event ran concurrently with the Manchester Wonder Women festival, which plays host to a range of upcoming events celebrating women and their achievements over the past century.