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The Financial Times is ticking boxes to win over female readers

Trailblazing female journalist Lois Lane. Credit: Rex/Shutterstock

September 12, 2023 - 1:00pm

Newspapers employ many more women than they used to. Several national titles, including the Financial Times and the Guardian, have female editors. But they’re still read by more men than women, raising questions about whether news values reflect the assumptions of a bygone age.

There’s a new hazard, too, in the shape of editors uncritically accepting the claims of men who identify as women. In 2018, the FT included a “gender fluid” man in its list of the top 100 women in business. Philip Bunce, a senior director at Credit Suisse, was said to spend half his time as his female alter ego, Pips. He took the opportunity to tweet an attack on “sad TERFS”. Women were furious and many said as much.

Now an interview in the trade paper, Press Gazette, reveals that the FT is keen to become a more welcoming brand for women. According to Daisy Donald, a consultant at FT Strategies, the paper now has a commercial goal of “appealing to and understanding the needs of female readers”. It has even developed a tool, FT Diversify, to help other publishers make their product more attractive to women. 

But what does that actually mean? Counting how many women appear in photos, apparently. “So, if you go to the FT, you often see pictures of men,” Donald tells Press Gazette. “Could that be having an impact on the FT’s brand perception?” The tool analyses text and images to discover whether men and women are being represented equally a laudable aim, no doubt, although it has to be said that the business world is still dominated by men.

I also wonder how the tool would categorise a photo of Philip/Pips Bunce, who often wears a wig and high heels. Bit of a minefield, this diversity business but women who are dissatisfied with national newspapers would say that the problem goes much deeper than numbers. 

It’s about outdated, sexist attitudes and double standards, leading to women being judged much more harshly than men. The Guardian’s mean-spirited review of Róisín Murphy’s new album, after she criticised puberty blockers, is an obvious example. A computer programme concerned with “diversity” wouldn’t have caught that but a fair-minded editor would.

“Diversity” can create conflicts for journalists. 18 months ago, the FT’s literary editor invited me to review a book about violence against women. I didn’t like it much, not least because it focused so much on the experience of trans-identified men. I pointed out that murders of transwomen are rare in this country, while two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales.

I received a call from the literary editor, saying that staff at the FT were unhappy with my review and wanted me to add a line saying that murders of transwomen are disproportionately high compared to their numbers. This is not true and I refused, prompting a shall we say robust discussion. 

Apparently these unnamed people felt that the word “rare” was “pejorative”. When I stood my ground, the paper removed the reference to trans murders, even though it was accurate.

I tell this story because it relates directly to the disillusionment felt by many women towards national newspapers. From reporting of male violence to the impact of gender ideology on our lives, we don’t feel we are being heard. And it will take more than counting words and pictures to win back our trust.


Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She was previously Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board. Her book Unfortunately, She Was A Nymphomaniac: A New History of Rome’s Imperial Women will be published in November 2024.

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Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
10 months ago

Every time we have to have the feminist anti-male dig.
It’s about outdated, sexist attitudes and double standards, leading to women being judged much more harshly than men. The Guardian’s mean-spirited review of Róisín Murphy
There is no evidence for this assertion. Graham Linehan, one of finest comedy writers of his generation, has had his career destroyed and had supposed friends and the entire comedy industry turn their back on him and publicly denounce him.
Paul Stanley of Kiss, Alice Cooper, Carlos Santana have all been vilified for publicly criticising puberty blockers and cross sex hormones.
The vicious trans mob does not play and favourites between men and women who are publicly critical of trans nonsense. Once they smell blood and go in to a frenzy they don’t even regard the object of their attack as a human being, but rather perceive them as some evil demonic entity.

Last edited 10 months ago by Marcus Leach
David Morley
David Morley
10 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

Every time we have to have the feminist anti-male dig.

They just can’t help themselves. It must be really tough having men in frocks play the victim card against you. Especially for the highly privileged feminists who look around at their posh house, posh car and privately educated kids – and realise that apart from being female they had no other card to play!

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
10 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

That divorce looks like it really took its toll on you, Dave, but this probably isn’t the place to try to work through your issues with women…

Last edited 10 months ago by Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
10 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

“Paul Stanley of Kiss, Alice Cooper, Carlos Santana”
How old are you people?!?!?

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
10 months ago

The Financial Times covers finance, business, and economics. The readership is predominantly male. So, in a bid to encourage more women readers, the newspaper is “appealing to and understanding the needs of female readers”. How will this be done? Less coverage of finance, business, and economics? More celebrity gossip? Wouldn’t that be a tad… sexist?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
10 months ago

It will be articles complaining how badly women have it compared to men, the gender pay gap, and invisible emotional labor.

Chris Keating
Chris Keating
10 months ago

Exactly, I think greed is gender neutral

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
10 months ago

I remember the dark ages when, in order to meet their diversity quotas, corporations actually had to hire more women. Now all they have to do is reclassify half their male employees as female and they’re done. Now that’s what I call progress!

Gordon Black
Gordon Black
10 months ago

I subscribed New Scientist from its first issue in the 50’s to the end of the 20th century: then it went girlie. Fine, but it was no longer a serious Science publication so I cancelled.

Gerry Quinn
Gerry Quinn
10 months ago

By all accounts the Daily Mail is the UK national newspaper with the highest female readership fraction! The FT may be barking up the wrong tree…

David Morley
David Morley
10 months ago

Isn’t the FT printed on pink paper? Good god, what more do the ladies want?

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
10 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Is this what the chaps at your mediocre golf club consider amusing?

Margaret Bluman
Margaret Bluman
10 months ago

When Kath Viner took over editorship of the Guardian, she promised to feature more conyent by, for and about women in the paper. Unfortunately that superficial approach resulted in a quota of pictures of women in each edition closely followed by an editorial decision that transwomen were women too. The result has been to lose multitudes of their female readers. I sometimes hanker after Mary Stott’s Women’s Page because at least it acknowledged that the majority of the paper was by, for and about men.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
10 months ago

Nanny G either cleaned out their profiles recently, or just started censoring more.

Articles which had 500 comments by midday, now have 45.

Matt M
Matt M
10 months ago

Was Bunce a senior director at Credit Suisse before its collapse? Was he Philip or Pippa on the day the share price dropped 25%? When UBS are making redundancies will he/she get two severance pay-outs?
We should be told.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Is he really called BUNCE?
How very unfortunate!

David Morley
David Morley
10 months ago

I pointed out that murders of transwomen are rarein this country, while two women a week are killedby a current or former partner in England and Wales.

Which is also extremely rare in relation to the total female population.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
10 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

The UK’s homicide rate in 2022 was 11.7 per million population (696 people killed in total), with the rate for males (16.9 per million population) more than twice that for females (6.6 per million). Of course, an even higher proportion (93%) of those convicted of murder are men, but it is “double standards” to imply that violence and murder only affects women.

Last edited 10 months ago by Stephen Walsh
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
10 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Whilst men are more likely to be murdered, very few are killed due to domestic abuse by current or former partners. Therefore in the context of the article it’s fair to point this out.
Are you that insecure that in an article talking about violence towards women you have to throw a hissy fit because men aren’t also mentioned? Most people are quite capable of talking about a variety of subjects without always having to compare them, it’s not a competition

David Morley
David Morley
10 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Both the author and yourself are guilty of fallacious reasoning. In comparison to population the number of both women and men killed as a result of domestic violence is vanishingly small. Work out the percentages.

Comparing one with the other when the numbers are so small is completely meaningless.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
10 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Circa 100 women a year is far too much. The perpetrators should be hanged first time and every time, no ifs or buts.
On a cost benefit analysis it is by far the best option.
Deterrence has NOTHING to do with it.

David Morley
David Morley
10 months ago

Is it not really patronising to think that reading matter has to be dumbed down or glammed up for a female readership? And for women who really don’t want to read brainy stuff (newsflash: a lot of men don’t either!) there’s plenty of alternative reading matter out there. There’s hardly a shortage of female oriented reading matter.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
10 months ago

Imagine thinking you look good in that dress.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
10 months ago

These comments are absolutely comical – thanks for the laughs, chaps!

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
10 months ago

And thank you for your contrafibularities!

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
10 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Oh, a Blackadder fan. Maybe you’re not a completely hopeless case.
(This is where he says he doesn’t know what I am talking about and that contrafibularities is common term down his way!)