One editor of a women’s magazine described it to me like this: “If we can produce an issue that isn’t full of blondes from the Cotswolds, then we’ll be onto something.”
It seems that even the insiders of the British women’s magazine industry are growing tired of publishing the same content each month that’s focussed on one type of woman and allows for very little diversity.
You know what I’m talking about. The endless magazine covers with white women, white models and white celebrities, interspersed with the occasional appearance from Beyonce or one of the Kardashian sisters. Inside is more of the same. Page after page of feature stories, beauty, skin and hair advice…very little of which is targeted at me. Of the few times Asians do grace the pages it’s for the usual stories on forced marriage and other aspects of cultural oppression.
Ok, I know I write about the latter quite often. But outside of that time, I’d like to know which new foundations work on my skin tone. Or about the new generation of products that help tame my often frizzy hair. I know you can find that kind of stuff in specific Desi publications. But where are the mainstream columnists and writers who provide a more culturally diverse perspective on life? Why is content for women like me still so marginalised?
A large part of the problem is the lack of black and minority ethnic (BME) journalists and editors in mainstream women’s magazines. According to the Creative Skillset Employment Census of 2012, BME representation in the creative industries has declined from 7.4% of the total workforce in 2006 to 6.7% in 2009 and stood at just 5.4% in 2012.
Naturally the end result of such poor BME representation is editorial content with a blindingly white bias. There’s hardly anything that speaks to black and Asian women that is beyond cultural stereotyping.
Whilst there are many editors and writers amongst the British women’s press that I have a lot of respect for, I can’t get past the fact that there are so few black or Asian women in key editorial positions. Instead, the women who are forecasting trends and telling us what is zeitgeist don’t actually reflect an ethnically diverse Britain at all.
Here’s a case in point. I love the new online publication The Pool, which launched just before Easter this year.
Their manifesto is to provide original, news-y content for busy, on the go women who often consume media on their smartphones. So far so good. It was co-founded by 6 Music DJ and presenter Lauren Laverne and former Cosmopolitan magazine editor Sam Baker. Great.
I was interested to see Sam Baker pop back up in the women’s magazine arena as she worked at Hearst magazines at the same time that I did. And for the record, I do love what they’ve created- it’s innovative, fun and genuinely original.
But it’s very disappointing to see that there isn’t one black or minority ethnic writer on their editorial team.
Why have Laverne and Baker not accounted for ethnicity at all? Yes they have a fabulous team on-board, many of whom I admire. But – for now- I can’t see anything on The Pool about parenting and ethnicity; beauty for darker skin tones; racist sexism; the ethnic gender pay gap or diversity in the boardroom. Why should topics like that be confined to blogs and specialist publications alone?
So here’s my plea to the women’s magazine industry. Take note of the fact that the women of Britain don’t fit one mould. If you include a non-white voice in your editorial offering you’re not going to alienate all your white readers. Breaking: they might actually enjoy a different perspective. And with the number of white people decreasing in the UK, chances are your readers won’t all be white women anyway.