For my maiden speech I’d like to share my ambitions during my term as chair of the Radio Academy, but like King Henry said to his six wives, don’t worry I won’t keep you for long. Firstly though I’d like to share a bit about my background.
I could start from the very beginning, but don’t worry this is an abridged version of my journey from whence I came to where I am today.
My name is Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE the new Chair of the Radio Academy if 6 months is still new? I am first and foremost a mother, a grandmother and a wife. I am also a long-time activist, a campaigner, a change agent in the corporate world, a mentor, a sponsor and a supporter for women and minority owned businesses. I received my investiture, Commander Of The British Empire, 15 years ago, along with two honorary Doctorates.
To my friends, I’m Dr Dr. Commander.
I have been in the communications and marketing field for over 43 years running my own PR company for 35 of those years.
So where does she get this self-belief and confidence?
My parents arrived in London from Guyana back in the 60s accepting the call from the Queen who sent out a message to her Commonwealth citizens to come to England to help rebuild the motherland.
Thinking there would be a red carpet welcome, they arrived with six confused but excited kids who carried just one suitcase each.
But my parents carried the heaviest load. That was a back pack of dreams and ambitions for their children.
We arrived in very different times.
It was a time when there were no laws on hate crimes there wasn’t even the race relations legislation or act. That came a few years after we arrived.
It was still legal to call us the N word.
It was still legal to call us gollywogs – and Robertsons still sold jam.
Love Thy Neighbour which came later was still politically correct!
And you certainly couldn’t hear any minority voices on the radio. Would I be provocative if I said that not much has changed?
But the most worrying things for my parents was –
It was still legal for landlords to have notices on their doors and windows that said “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs”.
Despite this and much more my parents found a two-roomed basement flat, in the poorest street, in the poorest part of London which at that time was Battersea, right under the power station which was still live at the time.
It was so bad they demolished the street, it no longer exists but it is an address I will always remember. The address where we lived for about eight years. Nearly sixty years later I can still remember our very first address in the UK - 50 St Joseph Battersea London SW11…notice no postcode.
Every time I tell my story I fondly look back and think ‘if only I knew then what I know now about property prices”, I would have bought the whole street.
But I call my parents the true entrepreneurs they succeeded against the odds.
My father, even though he was in the Police Force in Guyana, had no choice but to accept work at St Thomas’ Hospital as a plumbers-mate. But this was a good thing as it became a job for life. This is where he stayed until he retired.
My mother is where I got my work ethic from. She instilled in me that early to bed, early to rise, makes you healthy wealthy and wise. Don’t know about the early to bed bit, but I am always up very early. She had three part time jobs as well as looking after six children and sometimes seven if you counted my dad. She is what would be now known now as, not a housewife, but a domestic engineer. She made everything and everyone work in the house.
Skipping past schools and college experience, yes I went through the various forms of racism, being spat at by passing vans whilst standing at bus stops and being chased down the road by gangs. We all know the stories.
But it was when I got to my first real permanent job that I knew what sexism and racism really was.
43 years ago the music industry was the place to be, but really only if you were white and male. After spending six or seven years at CBS Records I realised the only way for me to move up was to move out. So I did and never looked back even though the nemesis on my shoulder was saying “no more freebies, t-shirts, records, gigs and no more pictures with the stars”. Why would you leave a great paying job, and by the way you are a single mother with a five year old to look after.
My many firsts included starting the first black owned PR company in the UK (according to PR Week) and Capital Radio was one of my first client, but most relevant to why I am here now is because I went on to be a founding member of the first legal black owned radio station in the UK, Choice FM.
I was ambitious and passionate about the music and entertainment industry as I still am now, so when the opportunity of Choice FM came there was no question in my mind. It was the next step of my journey that the universe had conspired for me. I was going to be on that board whatever it took. The bank was never going to loan me that money, after all at that time women just weren’t running their own businesses, never mind a black woman, and a single mother at that - three whammies - and being a banker, the next thing that came out of his mouth was “the government won’t give a licence for a black radio station, you might start a riot”. Many naysayers and non-believers tried to dissuade me from wasting my money because “you will never get a legal license” and “anyway, black music will never take off in the UK”.
If only I had £1 for each time I heard that one.
I wasn’t going to be deterred. I was passionate to the point where I persuaded my parents to remortgage the family home to loan me my share of investment. They became my backer. Needless to say I paid them back many times over including unpacking my part of their backpack of dreams.
I was the only female on a board of ten, so even then I felt the weight of being a minority within a minority organisation.
You may also know, Choice FM went onto win another licence in Birmingham and of course we sold Choice FM London to Capital and it’s now known as Capital Xtra. The rest as they say is history, or in my case Herstory.
We changed the face of music in the UK.
We gave oxygen to new creative genres of music in the UK when no one else would give airtime.
We changed the dance, fashion and youth culture in the UK.
We supported black businesses that could not advertise on mainstream radio.
We gave airtime to those who would not normally have access.
We changed the face of radio in the UK.
Since starting Choice FM I have gone on to advise government, private sector, public sector and, as you can see from Chairing the Radio Academy, charities is also one of my passions. Championing equality in the workplace specially for women and minorities.
But “how did you come to be here” I hear you say. I was headhunted for another position not too dissimilar to Chairing the Radio Academy, with a not too dissimilar name. I was not successful in that appointment but I was introduced to the Radio Academy, went through the process and the rest is Herstory.
It’s a good thing to be passionate about what you do because chairing the Radio Academy is more time and more work than I ever anticipated, but when you are passionate it is not like work at all. I am very lucky to be having the time of my life … again!!
So how do I see the future of the Radio Academy?
Top Ambitions for the Academy during my 3-year term
The Ofcom report has many recommendations which I am happy to share with everyone.
Here are just a few top line stats that we should all be concerned about as provided by OfCom:
Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive, said:
“Radio is a powerful, personal medium, with an unrivalled ability to inspire loyalty and speak directly to its audience. Our radio industry must reflect the breadth of modern society and offer listeners engaging shows that speak directly to their lives and experiences. And to do this effectively broadcasters must take further action to attract a wider range of talent, both on and off air.”
We seek reward but what rights and responsibilities do we hold in that regard?
With the changing demographic landscape of the UK, radio has to be more considerate about who they are talking to, consider the make up of their audience, consider who the influencers are, who the trend setters are, who has the disposable incomes that will keep the industry alive, and for independent stations, who makes the decisions on the household spend that advertisers want to reach? For instance London will soon be 30% minorities. Some boroughs are already majority minorities.
But radio is not alone. We are not the only industry that needs to heed this message. It applies to British industry across the board.
I worked with the Davies Report which showed the lack of gender diversity on boards and subsequently the Parker Review which showed the lack of race diversity on boards across the FTSE 100, and the figures there are dire even though many of the companies are global. Their boards do not reflect their stakeholders’ audiences and customers.
There are many reports by reputable leading consultancies such as McKinsey’s. Research showing that leadership roles matter. Companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation
It’s not just gender. Companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability. This relationship continues to be strong with a more highly diverse mix beyond gender, e.g., LGBTQ+, age/generation, international experience, and this can be a key differentiator among companies.
Diversity Pays Dividends.
With that in mind I would like to announce that The Radio Academy’s closing event for 2018 will tip our caps to the 100th year of women’s rights to vote, amongst many other things.
To celebrate women in radio. The Radio Academy will be recognising the Top 100 Women On Radio, as voted for by our members.
Details will be released in the next few days on our website and to the media.
Celebrating women in media is one of The Radio Academy’s first steps on our journey to promote diversity across radio.
As part of his inaugural speech President Obama said “We should never forget that the only reason that we’re standing here today is because somebody, somewhere, sometime, somehow stood up for us when it was risky.
“They stood up when it was hard.
“They stood up when it wasn't popular.
“And because somebody stood up, a few more stood up.
“Then thousands stood up.
“Then millions stood up.
“And by standing up, with courage and clear purpose, they somehow managed to change the world, and we can do that too.
“It’s time for us to stand up together and be the change we want to see because, if not you then who, if not now then when.”
Supported by my brilliant Deputy, John Dash, the dedicated board of Trustees, Patrons, members and people passionate about radio, I’m ready to push this forward.
I am honoured to accept the baton passed by the previous excellent chair Chris Burns, which has been in the safe keeping and excellent leadership of the incredibly persuasive CEO Roger Cutsforth, also soon to be previous. If you don’t know by now where have you been for the last few weeks? Roger leaves The Radio Academy as CEO the end of this month to join NewsUK. Sad for us but congrats to Roger and NewsUK. However, we look forward to his on-going support.
I am passionate about gender equality.
I am passionate about race equality.
But I am even more passionate about radio.
In closing I would like to repeat my ambitions during my term
Top Ambitions for the Academy during my term is working towards the following:-
Thanks to Leeds for hosting The Radio Academy, hosting Segue and the ARIAS again this year. Thanks to all our partners and sponsors for the faith and for standing up for us. To Lucy Duffield, Lucy Goodwin, Louise Davies and of course thank you for giving me a few minutes of your time – that you will never get back.
Poet Maya Angelou said:
“People don’t remember what you say, they remember how you made them feel.”
“I am not here to teach you but to make you think.”
So I hope I leave you feeling inspired to at least go away and think about what I have shared with you today.
If you would like to know more about how you can support the Radio Academy in any of these areas please do contact me firstname.lastname@example.org