Where Are All The Female Program Directors?


June 6, 2015


MIW: This issue deserves far more attention and I’m encouraged the question is being asked. Generally speaking, the programming leadership relocates more than the sales leadership. Whether it is a bi-product of the mobility or a choice to enable flexibility, I observe that this group tends to have no or fewer children. The disruption may be a barrier for women who are less able to move due to family commitments and therefore less able to capitalize on advancement, or are perceived as less aspirational. One could also look downstream at the ratio of male to female talent. Often, programming leadership started their careers on-air. Given how important talent coaching is for a good PD, these are roles well suited for women, but there is a funnel issue.

MIW:  I believe that the dominant male factor orginated in broadcasting during the 40s and 50s and ever since then it has been a tough nut for women to crack in terms of the work culture. Radio culture has historically been male-dominated and more than a little rough around the edges. For women to get to play on that field, they have had to largely become “one of the boys.” Also, people tend to hire those they are most like and feel most comfortable with — that’s human nature. So if men are doing the hiring, it takes someone with vision and self assurance to break out of his comfort zone and hire women. Sad, but too often true, I suspect. Hopefully, we are evolving.

MIW:  I posed this question to one of our very successful female PDs, Sue O’Neil, and I really agree with her point of view. The position grows mostly from on-air talent and we simply do not have enough female radio personalities on air.

MIW: Being a PD can be a 24-7 job. I often wonder if assumptions are made by male decision-makers as to the time that a woman can or will commit to such a position if they have a family.

MIW:  Same reason that Morning Drive, Afternoon Drive, and Evening Dayparts are also male-dominated. I’ve NEVER gotten a straight answer on this one. Only absurd generalizations such as both men listeners and women listeners prefer to hear men on the air (with zero research to back it up, except ratings – which is laughable, because there is little or no representation in the sample).

MIW:  I think it relates to the ratio of male vs. female on-air talent as virtually all PDs start with an air shift. If a woman wants a particular position, she can go get it. I would certainly like to see more women programming radio stations as so many stations target women!

MIW:  Men hire and promote men. Programming is definitely a boys club. Men think they know what women want, and they don’t. Look at the A/C format, it’s in the lost and found department…and nearly always programmed by a man.

MIW:  I am not entirely sure. A couple of theories — PDs are typically promoted from on-air ranks. At any given radio station the ratio of men to women is very much skewed toward men. It follows there’d be fewer women to promote. And…programming positions are very demanding. From a pure lifestyle standpoint, if you’re a woman with a family, spending night after night at clubs and concerts is not conducive to work/life balance. That might be taking some talented women out of consideration for PD jobs.

MIW:  Men are mentoring men, and unfortunately there aren’t a lot of women in programming being tapped. We have many female sales managers mentoring young women into sales management, but program directors, mostly male, are not being encouraged by their companies to recruit women into this track of our business.

MIW:  Most PDs have been (still are) air talent. There are more males on, therefore there are more male PDs. I don’t think there’s some conspiracy to keep women from being PDs. Perhaps as more PDs are developed through the digital content and branding side of the house we will see more women in that position.

MIW:  I don’t think that women were ever encouraged to go after those positions, it’s always been a boys club. It’s a matter of statistics: with fewer on-air opportunities for women available. There are fewer chances for us to rise through the ranks.

MIW:  There are very few positions of programming leadership at the top levels that are female. There is not a significant effort on behalf of the industry to recruit women to this side of the business, which is a mistake.

MIW: Since this field is still male-dominated, men tend to hire and promote other men – they go with the familiar.

MIW: Right now I don’t feel that companies take chances on anyone, male or female. No one is taking the time to groom our replacements on the air or off the air. Voicetracking and nationwide playlists have sent people to other professions but we need a farm team.

MIW: I don’t think that women were ever encouraged to go after those positions, it’s always been a boys club.

MIW: I think there are many reasons as to why women remain sprinkled on the programming side of the business.  Certain professions are more female dominated. It’s how it goes. A job is an exchange of talent and time for money. As a woman, if you want to do something, short of something that takes extreme physical strength — any field is wide open.

MIW: I believe owners think because the listening audience in talk radio in particular is more male-dominated, they feel they need a man to understand the male listeners. I think women could bring a fresh perspective if given the opportunity, and could also bring in more female listeners.

MIW: That’s a good question. I think having more women in PD positions would have a positive impact on programing and benefit radio more generally. Plus, we’re an appealing demographic to advertisers.

MIW: The majority of hiring managers are men, they tend to, maybe not intentionally, hire people who are a reflection of them. People they are comfortable with. Most often it’s someone of the same gender and cultural identity. Therefore, the pool of female PDs is limited because even if you want to hire a female, there is not a lot of them to choose from because it’s harder for the female to get the real shot to move into leadership.

MIW: In the past it has been a one-way dialog with the listener, so there is a certain amount of power and ego associated with “owning” that role as a PD. As the digital age fosters a two-way conversation with the audience as well as demands attention to the collection and curation of data about listeners, we will likely see women grasp this concept well and prove to be excellent stewards of the conversation and the data – this position will then open up because it will more of a marketing role versus traditional “programming.”

MIW: The PD position is male-dominated because most PDs start out on-air. Traditionally, on-air positions place women in a secondary role. Women may get a shot at adding music director or APD to their on-air work, but again, usually the secondary position. It seems the support role has been a tough stereotype for women to shake in the face of competition for the same job from a male with PD experience.



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