The Women’s Hour Power List Isn’t Diverse Enough, But Maybe That’s The Point

Diversity within the media is so important, and such a rarity. No-one gets it right. It’s something we’re always working on, and it’s something that we should always be working on harder.
Publish date:
February 14, 2013
diversity, Women's Hour, Radio Four, The Power List

Much has been made of Women’s Hour’s inaugural Power List, charting the most powerful women in the UK today.

Old Queenie topped the list – after all, she is Constitutional Monarch of 16 sovereign states, head of The Commonwealth, Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith (thanks Wikipedia).

Her actual, tangible power is questionable – compared to, say, Home Secretary Theresa May, who’s in at number two. However, the Queen gets the jump on everyone else for sheer length and fanciness of titles.

Cue predictable griping over the judge’s definition of the term ‘power,’ – Victoria Beckham made the list, for example, as oppose to the Duchess of Cambridge, who isn’t yet ‘powerful,’ merely ‘influential.’

Ah, influence. There has been much debate over the decision to make this a ‘power’ list as oppose to a less tangible and (dare I say it?) fluffier ‘influence’ list (of which there are zillions, almost exclusively topped by Lady GaGa).

But aren’t power and influence the same thing? I hear you ask. Not according to Women’s Hour, who have tackled any difficulties over semantics by moving the list away from too many celebrity entries and focusing, for a large part, on women in business.

Whether they succeeded or not is as arguable as the rest – there were some dubious inclusions and some glaring omissions.

And whether you think ‘power’ is a better way to measure a women’s success or not, the upshot is that the Women’s Hour list is almost exclusively dominated by older, white, wealthy, privately educated women.

This has, as expected, led to a whole bunch of criticism – why is the Queen in at number one when she inherited her (questionable) power? Why wasn’t the list more diverse? What about Caitlin Moran?

I hate to be Captain Obvious about the whole thing, but the fact is, there aren’t enough women from diverse backgrounds in positions of power – and isn’t that the point?

As an editor, I’d be more than a little nervous about publishing a similar list, ranking high profile women, with such an obvious white, middle-to-upper-class, heterosexual bias.

And, were I opting for a so-called ‘influence’ list, where everything is subjective, I’d be more than a little tempted to ensure that the final results were as diverse as possible. NOT THAT I’M SAYING ANYONE ELSE EVER DOES THAT EVER BUT IF THEY DID I CAN SORT OF SEE THEIR POINT THAT IS ALL.

But yes, I’d be tempted to skew the results – and I’d be wrong to do so.

Diversity within the media is so important, and such a rarity. No-one gets it right, or perfect – us included. It’s something we’re always working on, and it’s something that we should always be working on harder.

But isn’t the best starting point if we want to be a more diverse, inclusive society, to be honest about the way things really are?

I’m not sure how I feel about positive discrimination in a wider context – I change my mind every other day. But isn’t the point of The Power List to reflect what’s actually going on in society right now, rather than an idealized version? In fact, isn’t the point of journalism, in all its many guises, to report the truth?

By eschewing the traditional celebrity bias in similar lists, Radio Four have highlighted quite how few women of colour hold positions of power in Britain today (only seven per cent, if their list is a perfect mirror image of society, which it probably isn’t).

That there are so few women of colour, or from working class backgrounds in positions of ‘power’ (however you want to define it) in the UK doesn’t come as a huge shock to me. But it certainly isn’t right.

Things need to change, and editors and publishers need to do their bit by making the effort to be as diverse as possible. But before we move forward we need to be a bit more honest about the way things actually are in the first place.

Rebecca will be adding new entries to her power list @rebecca_hol.