B&T was front and centre for ASTRA’s annual Women in Television Breakfast this morning in Sydney, where local content and gender equality emerged as the key themes.
What started as a few women going for breakfast before the annual ASTRA Conference over 17 years ago now attracts over 700 women who come along to hear from inspiring Australian female leaders from the TV, broadcast and media sectors.
Joining MC and Sky News anchor Ticky Fullerton were News Corp Australia broadcasting exec Siobhan McKenna and Aussie actress Sigrid Thornton (who is currently starring in Foxtel drama Wentworth). The panel kicked off discussing where the industry was headed.
For News Corp’s McKenna, it’s all about creativity.
“We work in one of the few industries where we can be creative and see the fruits of one’s work come to fruition and impact peoples’ lives,” she told event attendees.
“We need to become even more committed to what we do – draw on creative content, draw on what consumers are interested in and shape what consumers are interested in. We’re the ones who are going to lead the change.”
Thornton chimed in: “It’s a particularly important time for us to take up our own mantle. Change is afoot. The third wave of feminism is on the go.
“I really believe that innovation and disruption will be created by the partnership between women and men – an equal partnership – and that’s the way that we can make stuff happen and create more innovative ways of telling stories.
“But also our Australian-ness should play an important role.”
Both women argued that local content is key.
McKenna claimed that Aussies love Australian stories and that local content, whether it’s books, film, TV, magazines or newspapers, is what we should invest in.
This is, of course, the clear differentiator between Foxtel and an SVOD platform like Netflix.
Thornton praised Foxtel for “trailblazing to create quality Australian local content which was – and remains – the mission of the ABC”.
“With [the ABC’s] funds more seriously depleted today, it’s more challenging for them to remain in that flagship position,” he said.
That said, both women acknowledged that having a successful show or content with international appeal is important commercially.
“There’s a lot to be said for an Australian story being seen worldwide, even if it takes one international actor to do that,” Thornton said.
Talking about Network’s Ten recent corporate bankruptcy, McKenna said that despite producing wonderful content and having a wonderful team, “a business can’t stay afloat if they keep losing money”.
She alluded to Ten’s “onerous international content deals, which were a huge drain” and claimed that international shows don’t rate as much as they used to.
When asked about gender equality, Thornton didn’t shy away from claiming representative numbers were the answer. “I’m a quota person,” she said.
McKenna was slightly more cagey, claiming she was happy with the progress being made and called for us to do (at least) two things.
“We need to choose to work at organisations where your skills and talent are appreciated and valued,” she said.
“If there aren’t senior women in leadership positions in that company then by definition, someone in that organisation is appointing bias: preferring to appoint men.
“If appointments are made by merit, women are chosen about half of the time. So, think about where you work and choose organisations that value you.”
Her second piece of advice: work with people who look out for you.
“There’s no point doing wonderful work for people who aren’t going to support and mentor you,” McKenna said.
“Being allocated a mentor isn’t the same as being mentored – someone going out of their way to create opportunities for you. And for who you feel that when they do create an opportunity, grasp it with both hands. Find people who you feel passionate to do amazing work for.”
Thornton told attendees to value their own ‘womanhood’ and authentic self.
“Climb the ladder as a woman, rather than as a man,” she said.
“There is a lot of pressure on women to behave in a way that is appropriate – that is, as men behave. We need to create a new generation of women who are in a position of power and treat others with kindness, authenticity and as a woman.”