This week’s Wonderful Welsh Women pick is Elliw Gwawr – BBC Wales political journalist, author and baking extraordinaire!
We were fortunate enough to speak directly with Elliw and spoke about her career, inspirations and the struggles women face in politics.
Here’s how it went down…
Tell us about your job, what does it entail day to day?
The joy of my job is that no two days are the same, and they are very rarely boring! On a busy news day I start broadcasting at 7am. Thankfully technology means I can do my first radio broadcast from home. But I do have a two year old to entertain at the same time, which isn’t always easy.
I then head into the office in Westminster where I try and catch up with a few MPs to see what they are up to, see if they have interesting stories for me.
I always have one eye on what is happening in the House of Commons, as there may be interesting debates, statements or committees to cover. But I am also kept busy chasing MPs for interviews and comments, writing and preparing scripts for TV, radio and online, and regularly updating twitter – another important outlet these days.
I have various broadcast commitments throughout the day, but the last programme of the day is Newyddion9 on S4C, which could either be a package or a live interview. On a busy day I finish at 9.30pm and usually head straight home to bed!
What do you enjoy most about your work? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
More often than not it’s my son shouting at me, I rarely need an alarm clock these days!
But I feel incredibly lucky to be doing the work I do. No one can say that politics is dull at the moment. We are living in unprecedented times, and I am keenly aware that I am covering politics at a very interesting time in our history. A period that students of politics will no doubt be studying for years to come. Brexit would be a huge task for any prime minister but Theresa May is trying to negotiate our exit from the EU whilst leading a minority government which is under huge pressure not only from the opposition but from its own members too. Recent events have shown us that the unexpected can and will happen, that makes my job very interesting indeed. I’m also very lucky to be able to work through the medium of Welsh too, a rare thing in London.
What has your career progression looked like? Where did you start?
Believe it or not I started off doing a degree in Physiotherapy having studied sciences at A level. But I soon realised it wasn’t for me and changed to study Politics. Like many people after graduating I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, so I worked at the Welsh Language Board, worked in PR, before an advert for journalists at BBC Wales caught my eye. I have always loved writing and had an interest in journalism but it had never been something I had pursued. So without any previous journalistic experience I applied and was lucky enough to get a job working in the Political unit. I started off covering proceedings in the Assembly, before moving on to report for television and radio. I worked in Cardiff for about 6 years, but having studied in London, I was always keen to return here to work, so when the opportunity arose I applied to become BBC Wales’s Parliamentary Correspondent in Westminster. I got the job and have been here for 5 years now.
What first inspired you to work in this field?
Growing up it was impossible to avoid politics. It was often the topic of conversation around the dinner table, I was taken to protests and marches, and we were always encouraged to voice our opinions. So maybe it isn’t a huge surprise that politics fascinates me. I’m a self-confessed political geek and will happily talk about constitutional issues all day (although I promise I do know when to stop!). I also love the gossip and the scandal which inevitably goes hand in hand with power. But politics is also about people’s lives. For good or bad it affects us all and it’s my job as a journalist to cut through the jargon and the spin and explain why it’s important and how decision made by politicians will affect people’s lives.
What has been your greatest achievement in your work to date?
I think what I’ve been most proud of is talking about my experience of sexual harassment in politics. It’s something that too many women have to deal with, not only in politics, but in other fields too. We put up with it because we feel we can’t complain, fear that we won’t be believed, or worry about the impact on our jobs. People have suffered far more than I have, but I hope that by using the platform I have to talk about my experiences I can make others realise that this isn’t something we should have to put up with. You should never be made to feel uncomfortable in your job. And I really do hope that the message is starting to be heard in Westminster, the Assembly and workplaces across the country.
I have to say I’m also incredibly proud of the two cookbooks I have written. Baking is a personal passion of mine away from politics.
What would you like to achieve in your work before you retire?
To be respected for the work I do and hopefully one day to be an inspiration for other young women who want to work in politics or journalism.
Who were your role models when you were starting out in your career?
Political journalism is a very male dominated field, but working for the BBC it hasn’t always felt like that. I have been lucky enough to work with some inspiring women over the years. When I first joined Betsan Powys was the political editor and it was definitely inspiring to see a female in that role, and I learned a lot sitting opposite from her in the Assembly in those early years. I also have a huge admiration for Bethan Rhys Roberts, she is a fantastic broadcaster who has given me great advice and encouragement.
Were there any women that inspired you as a girl or young woman?
I would have to say my mam. She died when I was 12 but I remember her as a very strong, political and opinionated woman with a great sense of humour. I never lacked self-belief as a child, much to the annoyance of my parents at time, but she has a big part to play in that. She made me who I am and still inspires me today.
Which female role models inspire you today?
The BBC has some incredible female journalists that I can only hope to emulate. People like Laura Kunssberg, Mishal Hussain and Kirsty Wark show that women can make it to the highest levels in political journalism, and do it well too. I also admire any woman that becomes a politician, it’s a thankless job at the best of times, but one that is made so much harder for many females, because of the culture they work in and by the abuse they face on a daily basis.
Do you think that women role models are visible enough, do you think that more should be done to promote the achievements of women?
I definitely think that more needs to be done to promote the achievements of women. I’m constantly shouting “where are the women?” when I watch television or listen to the radio. A token woman on a panel is not enough and we in the media have a very important role to play in finding and encouraging more women to contribute to our programmes. I also think it’s important that we do a lot more to celebrate the achievements of women in our history. I’m hoping the 100 years of women’s suffrage in 2018 will give me the chance to celebrate some of the women that have shaped our politics.
What do you think are the barriers facing women?
The gender pay gap is still a huge problem in my mind. Women are not only paid less but are also more likely to be in lower paid and part time work. It puts us at a disadvantage and sends the message that women are not as valued as men in the workplace.
I strongly believe that until childcare is equally shared between the sexes there will be no hope of achieving equality in the workplace. All too often it is the woman that stays at home to look after the children or cuts down her hours or changes her jobs when they start a family. The culture and expectation is very different in countries like Sweden where parental leave is shared and childcare is affordable.
Are there any barriers specific to your field of work facing women?
It is still a very male dominated field with a very macho culture where those that shout the loudest get on. In that kind of environment it can be difficult for young females to be taken seriously. No one would ever call me a wall-flower but I’ve been in numerous situations where male politicians ignore me and talk to a more junior male colleague instead. I’ve had unwanted sexual advances by politicians which I’m sure my male colleagues have not faced. We don’t always get the same respect, and corridors of power can be an intimidating place to work at times.
It concerns me that I am currently the only female political reporter in my department. That hasn’t always been the case but I do believe the masculine political culture can turn some women off.
What advice would you give your ten year old self?
Hold your mam tight because things are about to get incredibly tough, but I promise you will get through it.
What advice would you give to young women today?
Aim high and push yourself out of your comfort zone, you will surprise yourself.
It’s ok to be afraid, to have insecurities, but kind to yourself.
Speak up. If you have an opinion don’t be afraid to share it, if you have been bullied or harassed report it. Your voice is important.