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Glass ceilings and concrete walls – challenges facing black/ethnic minority women in Scotland’s media industry

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Jamilah A Hassan, journalist, blogger and member of the Yon Afro Collective, writes about possible solutions to the problems facing black and ethnic minority women trying to break into the media industry as part of the Stronger Voice for Women in the Media project.  The Yon Afro Collective (@YonAfro) exists to enhance representation, improve visibility and provide support to women of colour in Scotland.

 Many women hit the glass ceiling when it comes to career progression, but for black and ethnic minority women we have to smash our way through the concrete walls to even get into the structure.  Then there’s a higher chance we’ll get stuck on the sticky floors.

Women and children from across the world are now making this nation their new home. Scotland should be a land of great diversity and enriched potential based on integration and participation of ethnic minority groups in every sector of the nation’s economy.

The relevance of ethnic minority women in modern Scotland is very important. However at present, we are not well represented in the nation’s media industry. Engaging women who have a non-Scottish heritage is key to gaining their participation and contribution to the media sector, and in turn encouraging and unlocking the potential in their younger generation.  Participation of minority ethnic women in Scotland’s media industry would help reflect its audience while at the same time empowering minority ethnic women in Scotland’s communities in line with United Nations’ objectives.

The population of Scotland is on the increase with migration as one of the contributory factors. The ethnic and cultural make-up of contemporary Scotland is changing rapidly following humanitarian and political situations which presents challenges and opportunities.

According to the Scotland Census 2011, the country’s resident population is 5,295,403. Six broad ethnic group classifications were recognised by the 2011 data including White; Mixed or multiple ethnic groups; Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British; African; Caribbean or Black; and Other Ethnic groups. White ethnic group has the highest proportion of 5,084,407 representing 96.02%; and Minority ethnic group (Mixed or multiple ethnic groups; Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British; African; Caribbean or Black; Other Ethnic groups) with 210,996 people – representing 3.98% of the population. That’s, almost double the percentage 10 years earlier.  And the population continues to increase according to more recent estimates.

This development amplifies the need put in place ways to harness the potential of this ever-increasing group of new Scots – especially their women and children – for the benefits of Scotland.  It means preparation and planning across all fronts become imperative for an inclusive and sustainable Scotland.

The ability of ethnic minority women to fulfil available roles in the media industry is not in doubt as many are academically qualified to a high standard.  However this is not reflected in the media industry at present. So how do we achieve the desired outcome – women and children of this group playing a valuable role in the nation’s media industry? Journalism should reflect its audience, especially when there is a growing ethnic minority population across the Scottish landscape.

How can any group of people listen to news reports, watch television programmes, participate in studio audiences or become panellists when no one from their heritage is in the existing media industry structure?

The solution requires strategic action directed towards highly educated migrants and children to eliminate unconscious bias currently faced by minority women and to ensure the provision of a high quality talent pipeline of qualified candidates to satisfy media roles in future Scotland.

The media industry should explore ways to eliminate the stereotypes that continues to inhibit the potential of minority women. For some women, career progression is about removing the ‘glass ceiling’, which to my mind implies that these particular women are already within a structured system. It’s a different ballgame for minority women, they are faced with concrete walls – often alienated from the structured system – and with near to no hope of penetrating those walls.  Even if they do succeed in penetrating these concrete walls, they are more likely to get caught on the sticky floors, remaining at lower grades with less opportunity for progression up the career ladder.

To accelerate tapping into the resources of ethnic minority women, mentoring, role modelling and skill development programmes such as apprenticeships, internships and training would make a good roadmap to delivering more diverse representation of the Scottish audience.

Scottish media organisations establishing apprenticeship programmes targeted at minority women would help trained ethnic minority women fill this void.

While the apprenticeships could open doors for many, mentoring by senior practitioners in the industry would strengthen the impact of the foot-in-the-door programmes. Experienced practitioners would be doing a good service to our communities by making themselves available as mentors to media cubs. Learning the practices and ethics of the profession by shadowing someone who is there to guide you during the learning process, would make it less intimidating. In my opinion this approach would benefit the media industry immensely by enriching media programmes and content enough to appeal to a wider audience.

These initiatives would make a huge difference not only to the lives of minority women who are interested in participating in Scotland’s media industry but also to their communities.  It would also produce role models to ethnic communities inspiring the younger generation.

Postgraduate apprenticeship and mentoring schemes would have helped address the lack of familiar identities in the media industry for children of minority women – children would aspire to be like the new media ladies in their midst – the face on television, content producer, newspaper editor or the radio presenter.

While I have highlighted how to change the narrative of ethnic women’s representation in the media, another avenue to promote career excellence in the younger generation of migrants would be school-based activities to stimulate their interest towards the media industry – this may include career counselling by ethnic women media practitioners during open day events. At these events, the women would be encouraged to guide and advise the younger members of their ethnicity and if possible become their mentor, establishing a channel of communication with the professional for the purposes of attending to unclear issues regarding career paths or fields of study such as media, journalism and the likes.

It is my view that adequate coordination will deliver a talent pipeline of media practitioners from ethnic minorities, providing the media industry with a greater range of informed resources and audiences alike. Further, it would empower and highlight Scotland’s diversity enriching the global recognition which Scotland is well known for in several endeavours.


One thought on “Glass ceilings and concrete walls – challenges facing black/ethnic minority women in Scotland’s media industry

  1. Aside the fact that is a voice for the voiceless, it echoes the pain of professional Ethnic Minority Women in Scotland and UK.
    The writer’s expression of ‘smashing through concrete walls and sticky floors’ captures the experience of majority of BME highly educated women who want to contribute to the society they live. The irony is these same women are accused of wanting to sit home and ‘milk’ the system, a very painful paradox.

    Well said writer and very well put. Thank you.


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