Ria Hebden on building an inclusive women’s network

Creating social and system change within the TV industry

Established in 2017 by TV Presenter Ria Hebden, Wonder Women TV is an empowering women’s network dedicated to uplifting the voices of diverse women within the TV and creative industries. Earlier this month, the WWTV network held the inaugural Wonder Women Conference supported by BAFTA at their Piccadilly HQ. Hosted by Hebden, with speakers from all corners of the industry, the event was a full day of leadership and professional development training for freelancers, amidst the largest unscripted crisis in history. MediaCat Magazine’s Content Editor, Grace Gollasch, spoke to Hebden about the conference, WWTV, and elevating women from under-represented and marginalised backgrounds.

Hi Ria, thanks for speaking. You founded Wonder Women TV in 2017 — a network that elevates diverse women in television and the creative industries. What inspired you to create the platform? 

I initially created Wonder Women TV because it was the diverse community and support network that I always needed when I was coming up in the industry. After I became a mother to my son in 2009, I really started to see how there was a distinct lack of women sharing how they raised a family, and made a successful career in the industry possible. It was literally born out of an industry absence of support for working mothers. Despite working alongside some brilliant female leaders in TV, few were women of colour and none were from working class backgrounds. This inspired me to create an inclusive and empathetic network for women (who worked in TV), with an intersectional approach, to help support and retain the most marginalised women; who are at mid-senior level in their careers.

There are some brilliant organisations doing fantastic work to support those at entry-level, but few who specifically target supporting middle-management level, who are also in the intersections of the sector. It’s been humbling to witness the positive impact we’ve made in the personal and professional lives of the diverse women in the industry.

Ria Hebden and Angela Jain

Earlier this month you hosted the inaugural Wonder Women Conference, supported by BAFTA. What were some of the highlights from the day?

There are so many! I still get goosebumps just thinking about it. Angela Jain‘s (ITV Studios) fireside chat was brilliant, honest, open and encouraging, with a few swear words thrown in to keep it authentic! The inspirational masterclasses on Leadership from Michelle Moore were galvanising and Remi Olajoyegbe‘s session on Developing Resilience and Tapping in to your Ancestral History was profound and emotional. Our surprise guest speaker, Sinitta, was a fantastic hit with attendees. Humble, kind and armed with an abundance of wisdom. Sinitta’s rousing words empowered us all to ‘love ourselves’ and reminded us that life over 60 is only just the beginning. 

With tough economic times, pauses on new commissions, strikes in the US and reduced ad spend across the industry, can you share some of the conversations attendees at the conference were having around experiencing and overcoming challenges?

In response to the current pause on new commissions, Priya Singh, Director of Operations, Commissioning and Content at ITV, reassured attendees that the focus remains on green-lighting commissions to keep the employment mill of freelancers running; insisting broadcasters are trying to find collective solutions to the slowdown. Helen Cooke, Creative Director at Betty TV, stressed the importance of supporting the grass roots organisations and employing entry-level talent, saying indies should be accountable for bringing new talent in and ensuring the pipeline of new talent continues, regardless of economic challenges and people are supported to get the experience required to build a fruitful and long-lasting career. Samantha Stewart, Managing Director of 72 Films, also encouraged leaders to make themselves accessible so that people can escalate issues quickly and resolve them swiftly. 

These comments were welcomed with much applause by attendees, as were the encouraging messages from surprise guest speaker and pop star, Sinitta ‘You’ve got to love yourself. Always love yourself.’ Priya Singh commented, ‘You have the right to have your seat at the table’ and Angela Jain’s wise words, ‘Remember you can do anything! Never be grateful because you earned the right to be here.’ encapsulated the ethos of what was a spectacular day. 

You also run a Wonder Women mentoring program. What role does mentoring play in supporting the next generation of women leaders in these industries?

Mentoring plays an enormous role in supporting the career path of the next generation of women leaders. I think everyone should have at least two! Having a confidante to share your career hopes and dreams with helps a mentee to grow and over time, and achieve some of the goals they set themselves. It’s also about having someone you trust who can be a soundboard to support you when you inevitably come up against challenges, as these are inevitable as you grow and develop.

An experienced, knowledgeable and connected mentor is worth their weight in gold and can encourage you to far exceed your own expectations with commitment, tenacity and vision driven by the mentee. I truly see mentoring as a crucial part of one’s career development and one that all employees should recognise and truly embrace as part of their investment in the people who work for them. 

In what ways do you envision the Wonder Women Conference creating a lasting impact on the professional landscape for women in the TV industry?

The Wonder Women Conference is unique in its intersectional approach and inclusive nature. It is unlike anything else that exists in the industry, and that’s our superpower. It has been meticulously designed with diversity and inclusion at its core which has allowed us to create a safe space for diverse women to come together, share stories and learn from each other in a supportive, non-judgemental environment it is this authenticity that allows our speakers to share openly and honestly which in turn, encourages attendees to participate and engage fully. The truthfulness in the discussions amongst our industry’s senior female leaders is what inspires real change.

We envision the conference evolving to become an annual event, where diverse women at mid-senior level dedicate a whole day to invest in their own learning and development, to renew and restore, to learn and discuss, to connect and to grow. It’s what women who work in TV have always needed. 

How can organisations better support freelancers in the industry? What steps can they take to create a better environment for marginalised members of the freelancing community?

There are a number of ways organisations can support freelancers, they can ensure they pay freelancers promptly. I’ve heard horror stories of some freelancers being paid 60 days after they’ve completed the job, which is frankly, unacceptable in the current climate. Organisations can invite freelancers into their office space, allow them to use their facilities and include them in team meetings.

Keeping freelancers informed of potential future projects coming up is also a great way to stay connected, as we know that loneliness is one of the biggest issues freelancers feel when work slows down and things get quiet.

Having spoken to many freelancers in our Wonder Women community, shockingly, some have been out of work since March. But it’s the silence from organisations that they describe as deafening, and most hurtful. If organisations could check in with their pool of freelancers regularly and give them some steer on upcoming projects, this at the very least allows them to forecast their income and plan other projects accordingly, enabling them to foresee any potential clashes. As the last thing they need is to miss out on work, or have to turn work down. 

Featured image: Ria Hebden, Founder of Wonder Women TV

Grace Gollasch, Former Content and Social Media Editor at MediaCat Magazine

Grace relocated from Australia to London in July 2023, joining the MediaCat Magazine team in September 2023. Before making the move, Grace spent a year and a half at Mediaweek, Australia’s largest media trade publication, where she was a journalist and social media manager.

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