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Business And Careers Parenting

Is the Media Driving a Divisive Culture? Where does Equality fit in all this?

Once upon a time, many years ago, I used to be a journalist. We’re going back to when I was in my mid-twenties. While the basics of a job in the media have remained broadly similar, the news industry has changed massively since then and not all of it for the better. In fact, I feel very sorry for journalists, especially those working for major news networks because they seem to get blamed for everything bad going on in the world and it’s simply not justified.

The Responsibility of the Media

One of the big issues that comes up from time to time is the responsibility the press has to promote equality. I’m prepared to say something controversial here: The media has no responsibility to promote equality.

The media has a role to play in questioning inequality and reporting on equality issues. To give an example, there is a duty on news outlets to report on the number of white men who attended exclusive, independent schools who are in Boris Johnson’s cabinet.

If media personalities cross that line and actively promote equality they’ve gone beyond reporting on the news. That would be campaigning, not reporting. It’s the journalist’s role to inform the news consumer, not influence them.

So what drives the media and what they can publish? Let’s just be frank and concede it’s primarily cash. News organisations are businesses and a newspaper article about a premiership footballer’s threesome will shift more copies than an article about gender equality. That’s a sad fact and a reflection of one of the more negative aspects of human nature.

The Impact of Social Media

It’s impossible to write about this subject without mentioning social media. Social media has had a negative impact on news reporting. Journalists are forever being shouted down on social media by people who don’t like the way they report on the news.

If you really want to go down the rabbit hole, go take a look at the things said online about BBC reporter Marianna Spring, who specialises in reporting about online conspiracies. Some of the comments made about her are truly vile and just how negative the social media bubble can be.

Representations of Mums and Dads in the Media

Let me take one particular equality issue that means a lot to me: The way mums and dads are represented in the media. This sometimes causes me concern. I think we’ve come a long way since I launched my blog a decade ago, but there’s still some way to go.

Going back a decade, it really wasn’t rare for parenting magazines to feature one token image of a dad. He would be white and clearly in a heterosexual relationship. By contrast, if a major news outlet reports on a parenting issue in 2021 and doesn’t include a male voice, it will be publicly called out for doing so (one of the benefits of social media is being able to connect with major news organisations and highlight when they have fallen short).

In fact, I once remember having a chat with someone about work life balance. He remarked that if the flagship BBC Breakfast show ever reported on work/life balance, it would only ever invite mums to discuss the issue while sat on the bright red sofa of its studios at Media City in Salford.

Rather amusingly, a short while later I found myself appearing on that bright red sofa myself. The issue I was discussing with Naga Munchetty? Work/life balance!

Of course, it’s not simply mum v dad representation. I see a lot more representation of same sex parents in the media than I used to. It says a great deal that Olympic swimmer Tom Daley was chosen to be an ambassador for Pampers back in 2018. Not only was he a dad, but a dad in a same sex relationship!

My real frustration is that dads are all too often represented in the media looking after babies or toddlers. There’s very little representation of dads dealing with schooling, their children’s physical and mental health and so on.

Look on any library bookshelf at the parenting titles and you’ll see what I mean. The books for dads are overwhelmingly a) Writing in a tongue in cheek style and b) they don’t exist for any dad whose children are over the age of 5. Seriously, it’s like dads disappear once their kids hit primary school age.

As for mums, well mums can’t win. They’re either letting their families down by being working mothers. Or they’re letting the sisterhood down by not having a job. As I say, we’ve come a long way, but there’s more to do.

Driving a Divisive Culture?

Moving on from equality, is the media divisive? As I said at the start, the media should report on the news and represent society. It should not cross a line and start telling consumers what to think.

There is no question, the media has become more divisive. We saw this throughout the Brexit campaign and this has continued during the COVID pandemic. We all know that certain newspapers and broadcast journalists are pro-facemask while others are not.

Are these titles encouraging division or simply reflecting what’s going on in society? In reality, I think various media outlets fan the flames of the “Culture Wars” as they can be called.

What does this mean for reporting on equality issues? It’s hard to say. At this point in time the media seems as happy ever to report on equality issues. Aside from anything else, the pandemic has forced every family with working parents to think about its approach to equality. And that’s hard for the media to ignore.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens post-pandemic. If the media looses interest in equality, then we’ll all need to worry.

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Business And Careers

The Importance of Language in Recruitment

Language is a funny old thing. Seemingly harmless phrases can be saturated with hidden meaning. Study after study has found that this can put talented people off applying for jobs and halt their career progression in the process. Added to that, poorly worded job descriptions and job adverts can cost businesses money.

Let me give you a few examples. An advert stating the candidate must have “strong English language skills” may sound reasonable, but you may put someone off from applying who is a fluent, if not native, speaker of the language.

How about this one. A requirement that candidates must be “clean shaven” could put off candidates who have facial hair for cultural or religious reasons. This also suggests the recruiter is looking to recruit a male.

As I’ve touched on race and ethnicity, let me expand on this. The inability of employers to fully appreciate BAME talent is costing them dear. According to the 2017 McGregor Smith Review of race in the workplace, if BAME talent were properly captured by the UK’s employers, it could add a cool £24billion to the economy.

Sexist Language to Avoid

Job adverts can also be unwittingly sexist. According to one academic study, frequently used words such as: Ambitious, assertive, decisive, determined and self-reliant are seen as masculine. Women are less likely to apply for roles described this way, not because they feel they’re unqualified, but because they don’t feel they’ll fit the working culture.

Conversely, words such as: Committed, connect, interpersonal, responsible and yield are seen as feminine words. Use these in an advert and you may reduce the number of male applicants.

Remember Essential Job Details

A much more basic mistake employers frequently make is to miss essential details from an advert. If a role is available on a flexible basis from day one, say so in the advertisement. Staff have many different reasons for wanting to work flexibly and if you don’t say so at the start, you’ll be reducing the number of applicants your role will appeal to. Remember also to include details of parental leave.

Back in the days when I worked full time, I would always look at a job advert to see if childcare vouchers were part of the employee benefits package. This can be a deal breaker for employees with children under the age of three.

In fact, I once got to interview stage with a job. I asked the interview panel what the benefits package was like. This was a trick. It was their chance to tell me if they offered childcare vouchers or to say something about the pension scheme.

The lead interviewer was flummoxed by my question. After a brief pause, he said “Well you get a salary.”

As I had the one child under the age of 12 months, I took this as a signal that I wasn’t going to fit in. Not that it mattered as I was never offered the job!

Age and Physical Ability

Age is something else to be wary of. To be successful you want a diverse workforce and this includes having older and younger workers. Don’t underestimate the knowledge and experience that older staff can bring. Phrases such as ‘energetic’, ‘work hard/play hard’ and ‘digital native’ could be off-putting for older, more experienced applicants.

Another population to be mindful of are those living with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities may have a greater need to work flexibly so make sure your job description makes this clear. Likewise, phrases to avoid include ‘able-bodied’ or ‘bending and crouching to install equipment under desks’ (someone with a disability may not be able to bend and crouch, but have other ways to get under a desk!).

Main Language points to Remember

Having outlined what you should avoid, here are the main points to keep in mind to ensure your job advert is inclusive and attracts applicants from diverse backgrounds. Firstly, make sure essential details such as right to flexible working, parental leave and childcare vouchers are in the advert.

Keep in mind various phrases display unconscious bias and will be off-putting to both women and men. Take the time to look at your job advert and question whether staff really do need to be clean shaven, have short hair or free of piercings. Such requirements could make you seem out of touch at best, sexist at worst.

Are you familiar with the phrase “show me don’t tell me?” Could you make a video about the job and your requirements? A video can do wonders to showcase your organisation’s culture. You may also get across more in a two or three-minute video than you will on paper and you’ll stand out from other employers.

The final point is just to spend time looking at each word and phrase you use. A ‘work hard/play hard’ culture may sound appealing to you, but it could put off the enthusiastic 60-year-old who could make all the difference to your business. You don’t want to miss out on recruiting them just because a phrase appeals to you.