By Lin Taylor
LONDON, Nov 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Looking for a podcast where Asian women chat about taboos, plus-sized women discuss dating, or Muslim feminists talk politics? Scroll through any list of popular podcasts, and you would be hard-pressed to find one that fits the bill.
Even though a third of people surveyed by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism this year said they listen to a podcast once a month, like many traditional media outlets, most of the voices heard are those of white men.
Women only hosted or co-hosted about a third of the top 100 podcasts on the Apple podcast chart in 2017, according to WNYC Studios, a New York-based podcast creator and distributor.
From film, television and news media, an increasing number of women, boosted by the #MeToo movement, are pushing for more control to address gender parity and tackle sexual harassment.
Jennifer Sendrow, organiser of Werk It, a women's podcast festival run by WNYC Studios, said the lack of female hosts and producers reduces the diversity of stories being told.
"Gender inequity hurts everyone. It makes podcasting a less inclusive, less interesting, less vibrant place, not just for people making podcasts but for people listening to podcasts," she said in a phone interview.
"We want women to be listening and we want women's stories to be told," said Sendrow, whose organisation wants women-hosted podcasts to make up half of the top 100 podcasts within the next five years.
It is a trend that some companies, like tech giant Google and audio streaming company Spotify, are hoping to foster, running podcast bootcamps for women in cities like Sydney, New York and London.
Alexandra Adey, head of podcasts partnerships in Britain for Spotify, said media companies have a responsibility to boost diverse voices.
"The media in general, and podcasting, is a white and male-dominated environment," said Adey in an interview during a Spotify podcast bootcamp in London.
"It's really important for us to make sure we're amplifying the voices of people who wouldn't necessarily have their voices amplified. And to get new and fresh talent into the podcasting industry," she said.
There is a booming market for it, too.
In the United States alone, the number of females tuning into podcasts has jumped by nearly a third in a year, according to a September report by Westwood One, one of the largest distributors of audio content to radio stations nationwide.
While there are more male listeners overall, the time that women spent listening to podcasts every week grew six times more than men over the past year, to 5.5 hours from 4.6 hours, the study showed.
Hungry for stories that reflected her experiences as a woman from a traditional Indian family, Sangeeta Pillai decided to start her own podcast to delve into taboos, like sexuality and menopause.
"I fought and fought and fought to have a voice - and it feels like I'm at a place in my 40s where I'm confident about talking about these things that I've never talked about," said the 46-year-old host of "Masala Podcast".
"Podcast is a medium where you can forget that there's a microphone sometimes. It allows for intimate, real, authentic conversations," said Pillai, one of a dozen women selected to attend the Spotify bootcamp in London.
Another attendee, Jasmine Darko, 23, who had never used an audio recorder before, said she planned to host and produce a podcast series on plus-sized women called "The Fullness".
"(A podcast) breaks down the barrier in that you don't have to look a certain way. It's much freer than having the pressure of being in front of a camera," she said.
"I don't know any well-known podcasts headed up by plus-sized women, let alone women of colour. So I want to be the first one."
More women need to be in senior, decision-making roles too, said Tanzila Ahmed, co-host since 2015 of "#GoodMuslimBadMuslim" - an independent podcast about politics and culture.
"Companies that run these networks are usually men-heavy," she said in a Skype interview.
"I would love for it to move in a direction where women are not just owning their own voice, but literally owning the companies that broadcast the voices."
Men hold nearly two-thirds of senior jobs in media companies globally, according to a study by the United Nation's cultural agency UNESCO and the International Women's Media Foundation.
"We still have to look at institutionally who is commissioning the podcast. There's still a gatekeeping process," said podcaster and radio host Beverley Wang from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Unlike in traditional media, the rules in podcasting are still being written, Wang said, and most people can get their voices heard regardless of their gender or background.
"At its core, it is much more democratic. If you have an idea, a voice, a phone or microphone and access to the internet, it's so simple," Wang said.
(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Katy Migro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)