British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

‘Voices for Change’

In November 2015 Melanie Bell and Sue Bradley participated in the BECTU Women’s Conference in London. The conference is a bi-annual event organised by the BECTU Women’s Equality Committee. The theme of the conference was ‘Voices for Change’ and the forty delegates came from all sections of the industry including Regional Production, Arts and Entertainment, London Production and Independent Broadcasting.The aim of the conference was to share historical accounts of women in the media industries and use those accounts to prompt discussion amongst delegates about current equality issues.

At the conference we shared historical accounts of women in the media industries and used those accounts to prompt discussion amongst delegates about current equality issues

What was the format of the conference?

The day was organised around two inter-related sections. In the morning Melanie and Sue led an interactive workshop, where conference delegates listened to, and discussed, extracts from a number of oral history interviews which the project had recorded. These interviews were with retired women from sectors including make-up, wardrobe, editing, continuity and producing, and touched on a number of themes, from arranging child-care to professional attitudes towards work done by women.

In the afternoon delegates participated in small group discussions which reflected on the past, present and future of women in the media industries. The groups explored the similarities and differences between the historical accounts and their own experiences and used those discussions to draw up a series of recommendations for change within the industries. In a final plenary session the delegates came together to identify key campaign issues for 2016/17 and discussed how to implement change.

Findings and Recommendations

The delegates found many points of connection and comparison between the accounts of historical women and their own working lives.

All delegates identified with a television Production Assistant who recalled how going into work on Sunday was a regular feature of her working life in the 1970s. The issue of work taking priority over personal/social life remained a pressing concern for all delegates and one which was thought to especially impact on women with care responsibilities. (‘No life outside! Children? Partners. Still the same!’)

Most women recognised the examples of ‘emotional labour’ in the interviews that is, how women both historically and currently take a lead in handling the emotions of others on a team and maintaining a crew’s well-being. The delegates felt this function was grossly under-valued even though it was essential to the successful running of a production.

The issue of ’emotional labour’ resonated with delegates

Extracts on child-care triggered intense debate with delegates discussing their practical arrangements, expectations of society and self around motherhood and caring, and ‘choosing’ particular jobs because they were more compatible with the demands of parenting. (‘Still totally the same 1974-2015. Love the job! Do you mention you have a child or not??!!’;  ‘Still major worry at interviews, though legally it shouldn’t matter, it does’.)
You can find out more about the workshop’s findings in an article by Sue Bradley published in the Oral History Journal.

Extracts on child-care triggered intense debate

As a result of both the conference and internal union discussions the Women’s Committee put forward a proposal to develop a formal mentoring scheme. Although there was recognition that this would not resolve structural inequality and sector discrimination there was a shared willingness to focus efforts on action directly within the Committee’s control. The Mentor scheme is currently under development. More individual actions are reported in the ‘Further Reflections’ section (below).

The BECTU Women’s Committee are currently developing a Mentoring Scheme for women

Feedback from delegates

‘I thoroughly enjoyed the event and left feeling totally inspired and connected to other women in the industry which felt amazing’ (conference delegate)

I felt ‘totally inspired and connected to other women in the industry’

‘This was my first BECTU event and think I am hooked already. Please let me know how I can be more involved’ (conference delegate)

Further Reflections

‘It definitely made me think more about what I can do for women’s rights’

Six months after the conference an on-line questionnaire was sent to the conference delegates. Nine people responded to our request for further information about the longer-term impact of the conference on their work or personal life. Some women reported attitudinal change, for example ‘I’m looking out for others more and am more alive to the issues’; ‘It definitely made me think more about what I can do for women’s rights’. Others reported changes to their working practices and habits as a result of the workshop. One delegate reported that she had ‘stepped up my involvement in the trade union’, another that she was ‘more likely to be vociferous about inequality at work’.

The workshop made me ‘feel more alive, less of an outsider’

Most women had mixed feelings about the current working culture and the prospect of change. For one woman ‘it was depressing but at the same time good to have my suspicions confirmed about [gender] inequality.’ Others reported feeling both ‘empowered’ and ‘frustrated’ at what they saw as the uphill task of gender equality. A feeling of engagement came through strongly in the comments of one delegate for whom the workshop made them ‘feel more alive, less of an outsider’.