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Working in broadcasting: Time to make a difference

Posted on Aug 9, 2021 by Verity Butler

Being new to any industry is daunting. But what if you are starting out working in broadcasting? FEED speaks to three newcomers, hearing their stories about launching a career in an industry in flux

Starting out in an industry as colossal as broadcast and media is no simple feat. Although the sector has come a long way from what it used to be, it’s by no means known for being a leader in diversity.

According to statistics from Data USA, 87.6% of broadcast and sound engineering technicians, radio operators and media and communicationequipment workers are men. The average male salary is $57,735, while women’s pay for the same work averages out at $43,195.

With this in mind, it’s important to recognise the clear moves being made by big players in the industry to change for the better. ‘Diversity and inclusion’ has become a buzz phrase over the past few years, as society has started to realise being diverse is super-hip and cool. Being any kind of ‘ist’ – from sexist to racist – is really not trendy any more.

Industry organisations are starting to take the lead. Rise is a prime example of this. The not-for-profit is pioneering for change when working in broadcasting, from its mentoring programmes, to yearly awards in recognition of those making a notable impact. It has opened doors and ideas for those starting out, as well as the old-timers making unrecognised strides for decades.

The non-profit was started four years ago by Sadie Groom and initially dubbed ‘Females in the Broadcast Industry (FBI)’. Rise managing director, Carrie Wootten, then came on board, bringing forward the mentoring programme.

“It was one of those things where we knew mentoring could have an impact, but we needed to demonstrate that it actually makes a difference, and that’s what I did with my first cohort,” she says. “That’s why the programme is so important – because it has such a major impact on women’s lives. If you have a look at the women from the first cohort and the positions they’re in now, and their trajectory, it’s amazing – and they put a lot of that down to Rise mentoring.”

The average male salary is $57,735. Women's salaries for the same work average out at $43,195

The free, six-month programme, supports women working in broadcasting, or aspiring to work within the sector. The support received by the mentees includes:

  • Being matched with an industry professional, with one-to-one mentoring contact
  • A monthly mentees group meeting, facilitating peer-to-peer support
  • Access to networking events and workshops
  • Support and guidance from the Rise Programme director

FEED had the opportunity to meet and talk to three past mentees from different cohorts of the programme. All three work in a variety of areas, making their reflections a diverse insight into what it really feels like to start out in the industry.

Working in broadcasting

Emily Bergun: Engineer the future

Emily Bergun is an associate broadcast support engineer for Sky. Responding to support calls for anything from Sky News to Sky Sports, she is at the forefront of live production. Graduating from Solent University with a degree in broadcast engineering in 2019, she has now been at Sky for well over a year and a half.

Her engineering support covers a range of challenges, from problems with the ticker, to an inaccurate football graphic. The issues vary in difficulty – it could be as simple as swapping out a keyboard, or as huge as none of the data appearing on the screen.

“Growing up, I was interested in how things work – I would take them apart and put them back together again,” recalls Bergun. “In school, I always enjoyed doing sound for GCSE drama performances. From there, I thought I could maybe work in theatre, which is how I found Solent University.

“Instead of doing the theatre course, I decided to go into television, because it seemed bigger and more exciting. It surprised me how much there is behind the scenes, so when I found this degree in broadcast engineering, I thought: ‘That’s a bit of me!’”

Working in broadcasting

Recommended to her by a university lecturer, Bergun found herself in the ‘Covid cohort’ of Rise’s mentoring programme, just as she was approaching the completion of her degree.

However, no global pandemic was going to get in the way, and the mentoring went ahead in the virtual space. Bergun emphasises how the programme gave her something to look forward to each week during the darkest depths of first-wave Covid.

She explains: “My scheme started just at the beginning of the pandemic and it was so nice, because for a year, once a month, I knew I would be seeing these women on the Zoom call. I’m the only female on my team and, having spoken to many others in a similar position, knowing that you’re not alone is just lovely.”

She adds: “It provided a real sense of community, particularly at a time where being a key worker – and therefore working on-site non-stop for a year – was at times very isolating.”

Covid hit and I was suddenly on-site by myself, and there was no hiding. I had to get on with it

Heading for the sky

Despite everything Bergun had learnt and was now equipped with, starting out still came as a shock to the system. “Once I got going, especially somewhere like Sky, where the scale of the equipment is huge and everything is so complicated, I felt out of my depth very quickly.”

A key takeaway from her experience was: your colleagues are there for a reason – to utilise and ask any questions, pretty much until their ears bleed. Bergun also stresses the importance of her experience at Sky pre-pandemic, especially as we approach the post-pandemic period.

“Seeing the role pre-pandemic was quite a privilege, considering how many people have joined since.

“I really professionally treasure those days; I think they allowed me so much more space to grow. Having said that, I was also admittedly hiding behind people pre-pandemic, letting them do it. But then Covid hit and I was suddenly on-site, by myself, and there was no hiding. I had to just get on with it, which made the learning truly valuable.”

This is evident in Bergun’s success and progress within Sky already, reflecting her genuine pride at being part of such a progressive network. She has just been promoted, and her work journey continues to evolve and become more varied.

“Things are really positive at the minute,” she enthuses. “As a result of the pandemic, I am now working completely independently, whereas pre-pandemic, I was always working on-shift with somebody else.

“Right now, I’m in the middle of a six-week secondment with another team called production support, which looks after cameras, vision mixers and some of the more traditional stuff. It’s incredibly interesting and has been very beneficial.”

Calina Ho: Rise Round one

Calina Ho is the head of operations at Sohonet. She was in the first cohort of Rise, which means she’s had a plethora of roles, including media/transmission librarian (back when tapes were still a thing), media coordinator at Ascent Media (Encompass Ltd), audio coordinator, VOD operations coordinator, media support technician (secondment) at Discovery and project manager at Sohonet.

She currently oversees and manages the operations team, which in turn deals with various projects, ensuring all products and services are delivered from point A to B successfully.

The network you build is so refreshing

 

“I was lucky enough to be part of the first year of the scheme, and was made aware of it as my company was one of the sponsors for that year, so I jumped at the chance to apply,” Ho recalls.

“I’d already worked for a couple of big companies in the broadcast industry, but always had an interest in film and TV, which led me to history and film studies at university. At the time, it was common to hear how hard it was to get into the industry.”

Like many members of the first cohort, Ho stresses how the mentoring programme was unexpectedly one of the best things she has ever taken part in professionally.

“I remember joining the programme with a lack of confidence in the workplace and wanting to work on that primarily, but was actually surprised at how much more came out of it,” she continues. “The network you build with fellow mentees is so refreshing; having a group of women to help support you, bouncing off each other and also going through very similar work experiences, struggles and decisions really helped create a bond.”

It is undeniably clear from the mentees that boosting confidence in the workplace is so important. A report by leadership development company, My Confidence Matters, found that 79% of women regularly lack and feel they are not
getting enough support from their managers to overcome this.

Whether you are new or have been part of an industry for some time, it seems to be a recurring issue for women to attain confidence. Talking to us, Ho highlights a particular concern surrounding self-confidence, and that she required assistance with speaking publicly.

With guidance from Rise, she was able to do this, emphasising not only the accuracy of the above statistic, but also how easy it is to deal with this issue – if employers put their minds to it.

Natasha Drew: Going 360 with BT

Natasha Drew is a product manager at BT, working as part of her third rotation of the chartered management degree apprenticeship within the company.

Having signed on after completing her A-levels, the apprenticeship is a four-year programme designed for new school leavers – and it’s multifaceted, offering yearly rotations of different sectors within the business. Drew recalls how her first rotation happened to fall into an area that turned out to be a favourite for her – media and broadcast.

“My initial role was working in the sales and business development team within media and broadcast,” she describes.

“It involved shadowing and being an apprentice with customer bids and working on a business plan for international growth. It was a really great place to start, with all the networking that was involved.”

What’s significant about BT ’s approach to apprenticeships is that it’s not as black and white as trying out every part of the business in yearly rotations. Instead, it tailors itself to that specific person’s skill set and preferences, using the rotations as a method of determining this.

Take Drew’s experience. Starting out in the media and broadcast sector, she felt that was the area for her from the get-go. In her second rotation, she transitioned into a more commercial sector, before returning in her third to media and broadcast, working in the product department,  feeling that she was truly excelling.

 

One of the key things I personally gained from Rise was the networking potential

“I’m currently looking after a product called Agilemedia, which is all about our audience interaction. We work with BT’s broadcast customers, providing capabilities to run voting shows and competitions,” she explains.

“This rotation has been very good for me in terms of developing that product skill set, which is what I think is the beauty of doing a programme like this with BT, purely because it gets you working on so many different things.”

Unlike other past mentees, Drew stumbled across Rise via LinkedIn, largely through the pool of contacts she gathered during her time at BT. She attended a Rise networking event, which happened to be about the mentoring programme, leading to her securing a place in the 2019 cohort.

“One of the key things I personally gained from Rise was the networking potential – being both an apprentice and  a newcomer to the industry, your network base is relatively small and, for me, limited to connections solely from BT,” Drew says.

Let’s talk about apprenticeships

It’s undeniable that the worth of university degrees has decreased, as the graduate pool gets larger with each year. As such, employers are increasingly turning their attention to apprenticeships and schemes. Not only does this enable companies to nurture talent within their business from an early stage, but it also equips people with industry specific skills that you simply don’t get taught in a university setting.

Statistics from the UK government show that apprenticeship starts for the first three quarters of 2018/19 increased by 7.1%, compared to the same period the previous year. Drew is a prime example of how an apprenticeship can work effectively, and highlights how apprenticeships are simply not talked about enough. It also emphasises the fact Drew did not have a typical ‘newcomer experience,’ because she was so seamlessly integrated from her education into the apprenticeship programme.

“Thanks to the development pathway offered by BT, I felt very supported from the start. Given the nature of what I was entering into, on top of being a newcomer, it’s an easier transition into the world of work,” Drew concludes.

Sky's the limit: Emily Bergun (pictured) found the Rise programme offered a lot of support, especially when she was working over lockdown

How can we be better?

Bergun stresses that although it’s evident the broadcast space has come on leaps and bounds in terms of inclusivity – particularly somewhere like Sky – there is always more work to be done.

“I think that in any industry, in any job, I don’t think anyone can fully say that I’m doing everything in my power to make this an inclusive, welcoming and friendly workspace,” she states.

“Especially in engineering, I think we have a lot to improve on. It’s obviously not what it used to be, but we shouldn’t be comfortable with how it is just yet.”

Ho additionally mentions the importance of recognising the significant steps the industry has taken, but that there is still room for improvement.

“I think the industry has come a long way from ten years ago, let alone 20 or 30, but there is still a way to go,” she adds.

“Programmes like Rise not only help bring this to the forefront, but are a real step forward in actioning change and inspiring both women and men to be more mindful of others. Diversity has always been a challenge and needs more work, but I am hopeful that it will progress,” she concludes.

Drew’s thoughts are in a similar vein to Bergun, coming from a large organisation, but she highlights the underlying need for discussion – with the Rise mentoring scheme being a way of allowing that.

“I think it’s great that Rise is promoting women in the industry and getting like-minded people together in a room to discuss experiences, and support others during their challenges,” she says. “Let’s have more people involved in Rise and programmes of that ilk – and bring people together.”

If you have the genuine passion and thirst for knowledge, you can succeed in anything

All about attitude

When asked about words of wisdom she would give to newcomers in the industry, for Bergun it’s all about approach.

“The piece of advice I would offer is to simply be friendly. I would argue it’s not what you know, it isn’t even who you know, it’s who you are.

“Time and time again, I would watch people with kind, willing personalities get jobs over those who know more, every time. I work long shifts, spending 12 hours, five days a week – often with the same four people, and you have to get along.”

She concludes: “So, just be kind, willing and ask questions. You can learn from other people’s careers, journeys and experiences – don’t hold back.”

Ho also mentions her improved confidence and the importance of maintaining it. “Go for it! What have you got to lose?” she exclaims. “It’s a bit cliche to say, ‘feel the fear and do it anyway,’ but I really do believe that if you have the genuine passion and thirst for knowledge, then you can succeed in anything you put your mind to.”

For Drew, the crucial aspect is to avoid feeling overwhelmed. “The main thing is to not expect too much of yourself at the beginning,” she stresses. “It’s a complete learning curve and comes with time and experience, so you can build confidence and become more proficient at what you’re doing. The broadcast industry is huge, complex and diverse.Let yourself learn and develop within it.”

Rise officially unveiled its mentoring pairings for 2021 at the end of May. This is its fourth annual mentoring scheme in the UK, second in Singapore and first in North America. This year, it’s bigger and better than ever – benefitting 49 aspiring women.

Rising on up

An exciting aspect of Rise is its Rise Up programme. A new, industry-led schools outreach project that inspires and educates children on engineering and technology opportunities in broadcast, media and entertainment.

“In order to fully achieve a gender balanced workforce and ensure more broadly that there is a pipeline of diverse talent coming into the industry, we believe that this work needs to be
undertaken,” comments Carrie Wootten.

Delivered throughout UK primary and secondary education, the programme consists of hands-on talks and workshops, with the core aim of enabling the industry to keep track of students from a young age, encouraging them to consider a broadcast engineering apprenticeship or degree, when the time comes.

Learn about Rise’s class of 2021.

This article first featured in the Summer 2021 issue of FEED magazine.

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