This weekend, news broke that Rona Fairhead — former CEO of the Financial Times Group, British business ambassador and recipient of an MBA from Harvard Business School — is "poised" to become the chairwoman of the BBC Trust.
The Sunday Telegraph ran a story about the news. This is the headline they used:
Yup, that happened. Instead of highlighting Fairhead's professional accomplishments — the things actually landed her the job — the newspaper instead decided to highlight her maternal status.
The story's lede just makes it worse. It gives the message that because she's the first woman to hold the position, we must somehow use "feminine" characteristics to distinguish her from her predecessors; in this case, her motherhood.
The gender divide: This isn't to say that motherhood is inherently a bad thing or that a woman can't be both a mother and have a successful career. But the simple truth is that a similar headline never would have been used to describe a man ("Father of three poised to lead the BBC").
This morning, for example, news broke that Frederick J. Ryan Jr. will be taking over as publisher of the Washington Post. The headlines around this story are markedly different than they were with Fairhead:
Ryan Jr.'s three children were also mentioned — in the last sentence of the article.
Fairhead deserved the same. In the Web version of the piece, the tone was different; author Joan Blakewell notes that "[BBC Trust] needs a formidable chairman — I hope it has found one."
The Sunday Telegraph story was likely done in haste, and as BuzzFeed points out, that "doesn't leave much flexibility for sub-editors to write headlines."
Regardless, the headline was still approved and sent out to thousands of readers, and it's incredibly frustrating. Fairhead deserved a better headline — I know we can find one.