Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Why have these women chosen to leave BBC Northern Ireland?

Sarah Travers
Sarah Travers
Yvette Shapiro
Yvette Shapiro

Over the past year some of BBC NI's best-known female faces have disappeared from our television screens.

Political reporters Yvette Shapiro and Julia Paul were among the household names who left in 2012 as part of the BBC's ongoing voluntary redundancy package, while just this year weather forecaster Jackie McCann and newsreader Sarah Travers quit their jobs, claiming they wanted to spend more time at home.

Then this week it was revealed that journalist Natasha Sayee was leaving the company for a new position in an international private-sector company.

Now questions are being raised about why so many high-profile women are leaving BBC NI and why more steps aren't being taken to prevent the exodus from the broadcasting house.

One industry insider said that while it was understandable that the BBC was under financial pressure as a result of the licence fee freeze, it was "disturbing" that the company was "sitting back and watching presenters in their prime" walk away.

"Some long-serving male members of staff have gone in this trawl, like Mike McKimm, but most of them are over 50," the source said.

"What I find disturbing is that so many high-profile, mid-career women are opting to go, women who are at their prime and have invaluable experience.

"These are presenters and journalists in whom the BBC has invested time and money, training them and developing their careers. And yet they are now happy to sit back and watch them go."

The source pointed to former BBC presenter Sarah Travers as an example. "She's a fantastic presenter and was snapped up straight away," they said.

"There's a whole generation of women in their 30s and 40s holding down demanding jobs and balancing this with family life. And by letting them go, what is that saying to young graduates? That you will have a career until you get to your 30s or 40s?"

The insider said many women within the BBC felt that the corporation was not "sympathetic" to family life. "People know when they become journalists that it's not a nine-to-five job, but there is a feeling that the BBC is not always accommodating when it comes to flexibility for women with children," the source said.

"The BBC Trust needs to carry out an audit of all those who have left and tell us the percentage of women and the age group."

A spokeswoman for the BBC said: "The BBC is an equal opportunities employer and is committed to providing, where possible, flexible working conditions for its staff.

"We do not comment on individual staff contracts."

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