We nominated Professor Lis Howell for a Virago blue plaque. She is the director of broadcasting at City, University of London, she runs the broadcasting and television journalism programmes, and she’s also a Virago woman!
We caught up with Lis Howell to hear her story.
“…they weren’t use to having women in power”
“The biggest obstacle I faced was when I was programme controller of a news station that was starting called GMTV and things did not go well. The advertising revenue was lower than predicted, the ITC authorities allowed Channel 4 to start an entertainment programme in competition with us which we weren’t expecting. It was all very nasty and very difficult and I ended up getting fired.
“Looking back, it’s fair to say that I was the only woman at that level in ITV at that time and I think the men found me to be a frightening element.”
They weren’t use to having women in power so I had been a bit of a risky hire. It’s women and children overboard when panic arises and it was a really terrible time in my life.
“…it’s women and children overboard when panic arises… it was a really terrible time in my life.”
I then got another job as a programme director of a new channel called UK Living. It is now the Living channel on Sky which is hugely successful, and GMTV is no more.
It’s been an interesting turn of events.
“People use to ask me whether I’ve suffered from any sort of sexism in my career, and I use to say ‘well no I don’t think so’, but I’ve realised that was really stupid.
Sexism is so endemic, it’s there all the time. It was hard for women, and it still is hard for women, and that’s very sad.”
There is hope! I’m 67 next month and I’ve seen incredible changes in my lifetime. My first job was in a school. When I started working, there was no chance of going into journalism or media unless you were from London or of a certain class. I saw all that change which is great.
“…I’ve seen incredible changes in my lifetime…when I first went to work it was very much “your husband is the breadwinner”
When I first went to work, women weren’t allowed to wear trousers and you had to be called Mrs or Miss and it was very much ‘your husband is the breadwinner’ and you were the secondary person in the workplace.”
Are you a young woman? Professor Lis Howell has some advice for you…
By Abigail Opiah