'Champions of change' - media training scheme for women scientists wins Royal Society diversity award

A scheme aimed at getting more media exposure for women experts in medical sciences has been awarded the Royal Society's diversity award the Athena Prize.

(l-r): Imperial College London's Dr Alessia David, Cardiff University's Dr Soma Meran and Dr Rebecca Morris University of Oxford in media training (Credit: Academy of Medical Science/BigT Images)
(l-r): Imperial College London's Dr Alessia David, Cardiff University's Dr Soma Meran and Dr Rebecca Morris University of Oxford in media training (Credit: Academy of Medical Science/BigT Images)

The Academy of Medical Sciences' programme was initiated by director of comms Nick Hillier, following media coverage of a 2014 study showing that male experts outnumbered women commentators across TV and radio news by four to one.

A separate survey by the academy of 200 female researchers found that just one in 17 would feel confident engaging with media.

The academy created a media training programme, delivered alongside Media Woman UK and co-funded by other stakeholders. Its comms team has provided further support, including helping programme graduates to sign up to the Science Media Centre's database of commentators.

To date, 107 women have been through the programme. Many have now completed high-profile broadcast interviews. In January, the academy took 11 of those at the BBC's New Broadcast House, to present on key research topics to 22 journalists - since the event, more than half have done media work they would previously not have done.

Further such events are planned, and the academy also wants to look at ways to increase the profile of BAME women scientists.

Professor Philippa Saunders, a media training participant and member of the academy's council, said the programme's benefits "go far beyond building upon one's own personal profile and media interactions".

She said: "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."

The academy has been awarded £5,000 to go towards further developing the scheme.

Fiona Fox, CEO of the Science Media Centre, who nominated the organisation for the prize, 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."

A recent follow-up to the 2014 City research found that the ratio of male to female experts across all areas of media had improved from 4:1 to 2.2:1.

The academy's 1,300-strong fellowship is 82 per cent male, although this drops among those elected in the past five years to 66 per cent.

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