Gender inequality still an issue at senior level says Stephen Fry's 'warm-up woman'

Launching the 2016 Women’s Leadership Conference, which is being hosted by the Institute of Directors in conjunction with the Chief Executives’ Forum, in Titanic Belfast on Friday is Dame Mary Peters, President of the Mary Peters Trust; David Cartmill, executive director of the Chief Executives’ Forum; and Julie-Anne Clarke of the IoD NI
Gail Bell

HUGE opportunities exist in television and film production in Northern Ireland - but the gender equality issue still casts a shadow, the Belfast-born chair of BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), Anne Morrison, has said.

Speaking ahead of her keynote address at this year's Women's Leadership Conference at Titanic Belfast on Friday, Ms Morrison said there was "still a lot of work to do" in 'evening out' gender inequality in business - but women could do a lot to help themselves.

"There are systemic issues, of course, such as hiring decisions, but in my role as an executive coach I often come across women, those working at senior levels, who lack the confidence needed to succeed," she said.

"I think women need to be brave, to say 'yes' to challenges more often and to learn to be resilient when they get knocked back."

As only the second female chairperson of BAFTA in its 68-year history, she is well placed to talk on the subject and was forced to develop a 'thick skin' herself during her early career in television production.

Although she described the infamous Jimmy Savile scandal as "extreme", it was still a definite "boys club" when she joined the BBC in London in 1981, working as a producer/director and rising to become controller of Documentaries and Contemporary Factual, responsible for 1,000 staff and over £100m in programme budgets.

"I started work there after completing a BBC general trainee programme and it was a tough culture shock and very much a 'macho' place to work," she recalled.

"In the 1980s it was all a bit of a 'boys' club' and there weren't many women in senior positions. You were expected to put with an almost casual level of sexual harassment which would be outlandish today."

Yet, she feels an "undercurrent" still exists in the modern workplace, albeit one that is less obvious and so more difficult to directly challenge.

Specifically, she highlighted the disparity in gaming which is enjoyed equally by men and women - yet only only 14 per cent of females are employed in actually making the video games they watch.

But the good news is that Northern Ireland has a "thriving creative industry" which is providing more and more opportunities for both sexes.

"There is no doubt that the significant growth in Northern Ireland’s creative industries is a really positive story and offers huge opportunities, particularly in the world of television and film production," Ms Morrison added.

"I moved to London at 21 because I felt it would give me the best chance to develop my career in the media industry, but today there is the opportunity for local people to progress their career in the media without having to move away.

"Diversity is key and it’s vital that, across all sectors, people are appointed to senior roles because of their talent and ability rather than because of connections they may have."

Although not quite the spectacle of the BAFTAs (at which she introduces everyone on stage - untelevised - as "Stephen Fry's 'warm-up' woman") she is looking forward to attending the Belfast conference - and will still make sure she picks out another suitable dress-to-impress.

"There are eight different BAFTA award ceremonies each year - the next one is the Games Awards - so you do need a lot of nice dresses - but I recycle from time-to-time, " she jokes.

"I love coming back to Northern Ireland; I have great friends here and it always feels like coming home."

Hosted by the Institute of Directors in conjunction with the Chief Executives’ Forum, the conference will also include keynote speeches from Dame Mary Peters and Deborah Mitchell, founder of global skincare empire, 'Heaven'.

Now in its ninth year, this year's 'Leading for the Future' theme will include a number of workshops and tackle topics including breaking new markets, improving performance, recruiting ‘Generation Z’ and leadership in digital transformation.

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