Diversity in Media: how some companies are making a difference

The media industry is still too white.

Back in 2001, Greg Dyke said that the BBC was ‘hideously white’ . That was fifteen years ago and was indicative of our industry at that time.

The issue of race and gender diversity in the workplace is not a new one, yet it is still one that needs to be discussed because little is changing and it’s not changing quickly enough.

Just last month, Althea Efunshile was vetoed by the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, for an appointment to Channel 4’s board of Directors. The minister’s argument that Efunshile “didn’t fit the brief” went against the judgement of many – including Ofcom and the headhunters hired to manage the process, who had at least interviewed her (Bradley had not). The lack of racial diversity on the Channel 4 board is in direct contradiction to the 360° Diversity Charter which they have made such a fuss about since 2015, and which they said was supposed to put “diversity at the heart of all decision making at Channel 4, across all activities on and off-screen, at every level and with all external partners and independent producers”.

It’s been a long time since Dyke’s comments and the BBC has finally started to take positive steps: they’ve launched BAME-focused Senior Leadership Development Programmes, Assistant Commissioner Development Programme Schemes, and talent days. Tunde Ogungbesan, their Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Succession, has said: “We want diversity and inclusion to be business as usual at the BBC and at the heart of everything we do on- and off-air.”

Well done, the Beeb; still a way to go, but it definitely sounds like you’ve got the right idea.

Even Penguin Random House admit, in the ‘Inclusion’ section of their website – ironically – that “our industry does not currently reflect the society we live in” and they’ve made some admirable steps to combat the issue with their newly-created BAME writers initiative, the WriteNow scheme.

Harper Collins went one better, back in June, and introduced a twelve-month internship program aimed at BAME graduates. Their Director of People, John Athanasiou, said at the time they  “recognise that work needs to be done in the area of diversity … and I believe that this is the logical first step in addressing the visible imbalances not only in our own company, but in the wider publishing industry too.” Other companies should, without a doubt, take heed and learn from these.

Earlier this year, a network was set up by Sarah Shaffi, online editor and producer at The Bookseller, and Wei Ming Kam, sales and marketing assistant at Oberon Books, for people who work within the publishing industry. BAME in Publishing  was set up “in response to the endless diversity debates and panels that have come and gone in the last few years”. Their aim is to “proactively change publishing so it becomes more ethnically diverse and starts looking like the world outside its doors.”

And that world is changing fast. Danuta Kean states that “by 2051, one in five Brits will be from an ethnic minority.” She goes on to say that if we don’t see ourselves reflected on the page, stage or screen then those forms of media “will become increasingly irrelevant”. Can an industry that is facing innumerable challenges really afford to ignore over 20% of the community?

As a woman of mixed heritage, I feel extremely lucky that I work in a company that, even in small team, can represent so many different cultures. Having worked within, and now for, countless other media companies I know that the set-up we have here is, unfortunately, the exception not the rule. The number of senior BAME managers available to mentor and inspire junior staff within the industry is very small, and I can only think of one hiring manager that I have dealt with in the last year who wasn’t white (surprisingly or not, one of the two people he hired through us was of mixed heritage).

So what can we learn?

Perhaps the words of the brilliant Idris Elba are instructive: “Diversity in the modern world is more than just skin colour. It’s gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social background, and – most important of all, as far as I’m concerned – diversity of thought.” That “diversity of thought” – which comes from a diversity of experiences – can only be hugely beneficial to the media business as it struggles to come to grips with a changing demographic and behavioural landscape. Diversity of thought, after all, is where creativity springs from – and a media industry without creativity is dead.

Of course, it will not be easy. As Siena Parker, PRH UK’s corporate responsibility manager, told The Bookseller “There is never going to be a single magic solution… The measure of success will be if we don’t have to have this discussion again. If we are still having this discussion in 10 years’ time, we will have failed.”