Shattering the glass ceiling

Lise Cosimi, Director External Relations and Director of HBS Broadcast Academy, explains how to break through the broadcast ceiling

Having worked in the sports broadcasting world for 25 years, I have seen many changes occur in the industry: broadcast technology has evolved dramatically, allowing the development of new media and globalisation of content, adding to the quality and variety of programmes. The rise of internet and digital has revolutionised consumption habits and allowed sports organisations to engage fans without being limited by borders.

But there is a field where progress has been painstakingly slow: women shattering the glass ceiling. Sports and sports broadcasting are traditionally male-dominated fields and women often struggle to achieve top positions, ending-up stuck in subaltern coordination roles. When they do manage to become top-tech executives, they are victims of the infamous gender pay gap: at equal positions and equal experience, women are paid only 80% of a man’s salary.

The reasons behind this reality are hard to gauge: some scientists evoke the mental barrier women experience, doubting their capacities and applying for positions they are over-qualified for. Women still taking care of the bulk of the domestic work, they sometimes have to settle for part-time positions that limit their progression up the career ladder (often referred to as the “motherhood penalty”). Other studies mention the “Gentlemen’s club” spirit, blaming the day-to-day sexism of the industry, and the unwillingness of some male high-ranking management to see things evolve.

Hiring quotas, imposed by the law or set voluntarily by a company, however, in my opinion, are not helping the issue. They create a gendered environment, and sometimes contribute to attaching a stigma to women having been hired purely based on her gender, and/or suspicion of being unfit or unqualified for the role.

To me, part of the solution lies in education. School is the place where social attitudes and norms are learned and internalised. If children, teenagers and young adults are being taught about equal opportunities, no matter the gender or the ethnicity, then they will go on to their working life as adults abiding by this principle. Girls and boys therefore need to be trained accordingly, and companies can play their part by leading an outreach effort at schools and universities.

That’s one of the reasons why in 2007, I chose to create the HBS’ Broadcast Academy, to promote three key principles: sustainability, gender equality and legacy. With the help of my team, I’ve set up learning programmes targeting women in order to allow them to be trained in small groups by the best professionals in the industry. We foster mentor-mentee relationships, creating role models to look up to for young girls. We also develop partnerships with schools and academies, to organise workshops, courses and seminars to highlight the benefits of joining the industry.

I was lucky enough to be supported in that venture by HBS’ CEO, Francis Tellier, whom I’ve worked with for the past 20 years. HBS is, in that regard, quite a special place to work. Management has always been keen to help women reconcile their careers with their family life: being a host broadcaster, our teams travel extensively across the world, and we make sure to offer relocating options to our staff with children who are based long-time overseas. We support remote working to help deal with family duties; we encourage younger members of the staff to consider long time employment at HBS by offering them training and the possibility to evolve depending on their interests.

Meanwhile, I keep fighting for Gender Equality in the industry. I’ve recently been included in the SVG Advisory Board in Europe and presented as the new leader for the SVG’s Women’s Sports Media Initiative, a group that aims to enhance the role of women in the creation, production, and distribution of sports content. Together with other participants, we exchange best practices and meet other women from the industry, evaluating the needs and progress still expected to happen.

Of course, things are still not perfect, but that should not stop us from trying.