The podcast industry has grown in popularity and diversity. Many people enjoy listening to podcasts as they go about their daily tasks, but may not consider the voice they are hearing. It is being increasingly noticed that a large portion of successful podcasts are hosted by men, despite the vast variety of hosts across podcasts of all genres. As a medium that is more and more established as a mainstream source of entertainment, it is useful to explore the demographics of typically successful podcasts.
Podcasts are – according to The Podcast Host – audio programs that are focused on specific topics or themes, and can be subscribed to and listened to at any time. Some of the most popular podcasts are hosted by men, with the most streamed show hosted by Joe Rogan. The popularity of these podcasts is more than just general knowledge, and chances are if you asked about someone’s knowledge surrounding podcasts, names like Rogan’s would come up. Julie Shapiro, for BitchMedia, explains that podcasts “copied the same gender stereotypes and realities that traditional broadcasting environments have demonstrated throughout history”. This means access, production and success are often in the domain of men, despite a generally equal number of women pursuing success in the industry. In an editorial piece for Stylist UK, Chloe May says that “two-thirds of bylines in reporting belong to [men], they make up eight out of 10 music festival headliners, and women are the focus of only 10% of news stories, comprise just 20% of experts or spokespeople interviewed, and a mere 4% of news stories are deemed to challenge gender stereotypes”. Podcasts are following the same pattern.
PDBY asked Instagram followers a series questions on podcast exposure and experiences. In a
non-representative poll, responding students shared if they have more exposure to male or female podcast hosts. Some respondants shared that they did not know any women-hosted
podcasts, and the general responses concluded with 50% of people saying they could name a woman-run podcast, compared to 65% that said they could name a man-run one.
The name “Alex Cooper” is not as instantly known in comparison to the popular Rogan. According to Spotify, her show receives the second highest amount of streams and listens after Rogan’s show. And yet the popularity of her show is not a fact assumed by most listeners. The reasons Cooper and countless other women-hosted podcasts don’t experience the same success as men-hosted shows is layered and nuanced.
In part, the disparity is linked to pre-existing careers. If an upcoming host has any experience in the media industry, they are starting from a position that is already male dominated. This is seen in the examples of Rogan and Cooper. Rogan was first a stand-up comedian, a UFC commentator and the presenter of the well-known show, Fear Factor, for five years. Cooper, on the other hand, did not have an existing platform in entertainment. In an interview with Time Magazine she said, “if you look at the charts, there’s not a lot of people that have become big from a podcast that didn’t already have platforms. Everyone was an actor, a singer, a comedian.” Robin Kinnie, for Podcast Business Journal, explains that “although podcasting has a low barrier of entry […] there were still perceived obstacles shared. One of the obstacles include the need to have expensive equipment, technical expertise and feelings of self-doubt.”
This leads to another factor: listeners may gravitate more to men-hosted shows. In her podcast RedHanded, Hannah Maguire explains that “because mainstream media is still dominated by men, audiences are more used to men’s voices. They’re used to that type of storytelling”. This could result in an unconscious bias in audiences that have more exposure to traditionally male dominated spheres of entertainment. This was reflected in one response to the Instagram polls that said that men may just have better voices than women. Audience biases like these reflect what May discusses as a systemic problem in radio and broadcasting.
This raises the question of how these factors can be challenged. Kinnie mentions access to resources and support from the industry. She explains that a “resource addressing the lack of women in podcasting is [different platforms’] mission[s] to raise the number of podcasts hosted by women […] through workshops, networking and access to top professionals.” Systemic change is slow, but necessary, and industry led changes are crucial to more equality in the entertainment world.
As listeners, we can also share and promote women-hosted podcasts. Shapiro writes that “interest is contagious”. The lack of exposure for women-hosted shows, both established and up-and-coming, means that “most podcast listeners simply don’t know about very many women-hosted podcasts”. Shapiro suggests listeners “intentionally seek out a couple
podcasts and listen to them, and like them, and write positive public reviews, and share and tweet and tag and point… you’ll help attract more listeners to those podcasts, and momentum will build.”
Image: Masehle Mailula