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Posted by Sean Childerley on 6th March 2019


Senior figures from the UK’s major radio broadcasters were among those discussing theissues of gender, equality and diversity in the media at a special Radio Academy event to mark International Women’s Day.

The packed event, which was sponsored by Deloitte and attended by well over 170 women and men in radio, was opened with remarks from Deloitte partner Ed Shedd on the importance of diversity to the Deloitte brand. Dr. Yvonne Thompson, Chair of The Radio Academy, who spear-headed the event, then set the scene and introduced the distinguished panellists.

Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith; Bob Shennan, Director, BBC Radio & Music; Vikki Cook, Ofcom’s director of standards and audience protection and Sarah Barnes, people and culture director, Bauer Media UK, joined the panel, chaired by The Sunday Times Magazine editor, and Chair of Women in Journalism, Eleanor Mills, to discuss the topic of ‘The Diversity Dividend In The Radio Industry – Do We Get It?’. The event was an initiativearising from the 2018 Ofcom report on ‘diversity and equal opportunities in the radioindustry.

Lack of progression through the ranks, retention problems and slow progress in addressing social mobility and diversity were hot topics.


The Ofcom report into diversity in the radio industry published last year had been a ‘pivotalmoment at the BBC, according to Bob Shennan who said: “It was the first time the whole industry really got that spotlight, so, it had quite an impact at the BBC. There was a bit of trepidation before it was published and a little bit of relief that there were some green shoots and I’m really pleased that since it was published, it feels like the industry have takenit seriously. Within the BBC we’ve certainly taken it seriously – and to be honest, I think the stick of Ofcom has been helpful - all areas of diversity and inclusion have become quite significant for the corporate BBC at a board level.

He went on to say: We are also looking at ways we can provide more opportunities at a senior level for people to get experience in commissioning and senior production roles, because there is definitely a problem about how people are progressing, particularly amongst our BAME teams. We’ve worked out how to bring them in to the BBC but all too often they are the first people to leave the BBC and that seems to be a real challenge - it’swhat we need to overcome to progress people.

Ofcom’s Vikki Cook added: “We are very clear this is not just about numbers but about really looking at how the media industry is properly reflecting diverse audiences across the UK, and it has to, to remain relevant. There doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem in recruiting in a diverse nature, whether you’re talking about gender or ethnic minorities, but then the key to me is what is being done about retention and progression and succession? Despite it being an incredibly competitive industry, we have to collaborate and share bestpractice.”

Bauer’s Sarah Barnes said embedding a new culture is not a quick fix, but a long-term strategy: Diversity is the new Darwinism, evolve, or become extinct and I think that’s really, really critical here because what you’ve got to think about is, is my workforce representative of the audiences we serve? And the answer is simply no, and if that doesn’t change radically, we won’t be here in a few years’ time.

“It isn’t just a bunch of initiatives, it’s about changing the way that we work in everything we do – it’s embedding it in every single thing you do. I’m less optimistic in terms of the stats,there is biographical data that shows us that we still have an awful long way to go – we’retalking about 89% of our workforce being white – that is pretty horrendous and we’ve got a long way to go to change that. There is an awful lot that needs to be done – but it needs to be owned by leadership, not HR – it’s got to be owned by your CEO and your board and theyhave to believe it’s as critical as the commercial performance of the organisation.

Social diversity and inclusion were also flagged up as a hidden problem which needed addressing. Shennan said: “The fifth area of diversity that the BBC are focusing on is social inclusion – a lot of people at the BBC have said for a long time that it’s a hidden problem – that we all sound the same, and therefore our perspective on life are the same. I think it goes for all traditional media, that it’s challenge to make sure we’re representing all aspectsof life in the UK – and that is definitely something which is a major priority for us. A priority manifest in the geographical location of programme making, our spending and money, our decision making, our commissioning – it’s a massive hidden challenge for the BBC. We’veclocked it – and again, it comes down to Darwinism, but if we don’t act, we will cease to be relevant to people.”

Ofcom’s Vikki Cook added: “If you don’t have diversity within the workforce, you will nothear that diversity and range of voices. The social mobility question is a really active discussion with the main five broadcasters. How the media industry approaches tackling social mobility and social inclusion – there is a huge amount of work going on and there is an enormous amount of focus on it, but it won’t be solved over-night.”

Baroness Ruby McGregor Smith, who led the Government’s review of race in the workplace in 2016 said: “The reality is this, that if you are from a minority back ground in the UK, particularly in the workplace, you are very likely to face some sort of discrimination, you are very likely to have not been able to be promoted to the right level, and you have definitely not been able to necessarily fulfil your potential at a level in business. So, my recommendations were quite wide ranging, the first was around mandatory pay reporting, so ethnicity reporting, which hopefully will become law in the next 12 months, through to asking organisations to set aspirational targets for race – we still need to do that for women - and to look at recruitment practices.

She also called for quotas as the only way to achieve real change: “I’ve completely changedmy view of the last decade. I’ve been a completely anti-quota person. But have we been able to move the dial on gender diversity at a senior level? Have we moved it on race? Certainly not. Have we moved it on any other type of diversity – not really. Now I’ve totally changed my mind – we can only make a difference if we get the quotas in. On race, when I wrote to the FTSE 100 asking them to give me their stats on race, only 49 out of the FTSE 100 could give me the information. Mandatory reporting – even the gender pay gap is fantastic, it started a conversation, but what’s going to change, in terms of the pipeline? We are talking the same conversations and the networks are fantastic, but we are not getting real progression. So, I for one, very reluctantly, am signing up to quotas for both women on executive boards and the pipeline and for race, full stop.”

But there was some positive news as Vikkie Cook said she was expecting a huge shift when Ofcom publishes its second report into diversity in radio later this year. “The second report is to be published in June – it’s been a massive data gathering exercise and I think there will be a huge shift on the dial this year, because we’ve had such amazing collaboration from the radio industry over the last 12 months. Companies are taking this seriously, they genuinely are, and I think the dial is moving and it will move us out of the heady days of radio from the late 80s.

Chair of The Radio Academy Dr. Yvonne Thompson CBE said: “As we move into Women's International Week 2019, The Radio Academy, in support from our evening sponsor Deloitte, was delighted to create an opportunity to hear from women in radio and their thoughts on diversity across the sector. Through the moderation of Radio Academy's key stakeholders such as BBC, Bauer, plus OfCom and Baroness McGreggor-Smith, were able to address hot topics within diversity such as intersectionality of race and gender and equal pay on radio. The robust but healthy debate concluded with a request for a follow up on the subject from The Radio Academy.”

Initial feedback from the event was overwhelmingly positive, with the delegates calling for more such activities from The Radio Academy.

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