OCTOBER 4, 2021

Vive La Difference


Is your newsroom representative of the audience it serves? Do you employ people with disabilities or those from ethnic minority backgrounds? If not, are you doing anything about it or do you feel it is ok? In this episode, we delve into diversity and ask how newsrooms and production environments can become more diverse and highlight the benefits that can be gained by doing so.

Listen to Hear:

  • What you can do to make your newsroom more diverse
  • The benefits of having a diverse range of views when it comes to content creation
  • The importance of driving cultural change from the top of an organization

Our Guests This Episode

Deborah Williams
Executive Director
Creative Diversity Network

Deborah has been the Executive Director of Creative Diversity Network, the membership body funded by the UK’s major broadcasters and production community, since 2016. Its aims are to support the UK television industry to promote, celebrate, and share good business practices around the diversity agenda.

She has more than 30 years’ experience working above and below the line in television, film, and theater, as well as policy development across the wider creative and cultural industries. She is the architect and designer of the BFI Diversity standards that were adopted by The Oscars and BAFTA in 2020. In addition, she is an adviser to the UN and UNICEF on the rights of disabled people to cultural activities.

In 2019, she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement award from Inclusive Companies for her body of work in support of diversity and culture. She is also a 2018 and 2019 Disabled Power 100 lister.

There is a recognition that diversity, underrepresented groups, or people from marginalized minoritized groups are not as present as they could be or should be within our television industries and across our media industries… We’re counting and we’re measuring to have a better evidence-based understanding of where the issues are.

Deborah Williams, Executive Director, Creative Diversity Network

Mentioned in This Episode

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Episode Transcript

Craig Wilson: Hi, and welcome to the Making the Media podcast. My name is Craig Wilson. Thanks a lot for joining me.

Now, how diverse is your newsroom? How inclusive is it? How many people with disabilities work for your organization, either for roles on-screen or on the production side? Do you measure how representative your newsroom is when you compare it to the general population? And if you don't, are you concerned you may be missing out on new perspectives, different views, and ultimately neglecting a potential audience which could boost ratings and attract more revenue?

It's a thorny subject for many in the business to address, but in the United Kingdom, there's an organization backed by the major broadcasters, production companies, and training organizations, which sets out to champion diversity and inclusion, and drive the firms which fund it to do more and become more representative of the audiences they serve. The Creative Diversity Network has an evidence-based approach to the issue, collecting data through its Diamond initiative and then using that to highlight where more needs to be done—and there's a lot to do. I spoke with the Executive Director of CDN, Deborah Williams, and I began by asking her to outline why the network exists.

Deborah Williams: The need is there because there is a recognition (and there's been a long- held recognition) that diversity, underrepresented groups, people from marginalized minoritized groups, are not as present as they could be or should be within our television industries and across our media industries. And I think, you know, one saying that people use a lot: If it's not measures, if it's not counted, then it's not seen. So that's what we're doing. We're counting and we're measuring to make it visible and to have a better understanding, an evidence-based understanding of where the issues are, where the problems are, what we're trying to solve, what questions we're trying to answer, and finding ways that either other industries have used, or we are using at a local level.

So, inside a small production company, somebody could be doing something really well and have a massively diverse workforce, but nobody is talking about it or is aware of it. Our job is to find those gems, to find those things, and to replicate them and scale them and make it a part of what the industry does and how the industry does things, as well as holding people to account. Everybody can publish press release, but who follows up on that? Who follows up and says, “Ok, you said you were going to do this in this period of time. Have you done it? If not, why not? And if you have done it, then let's talk about how you did it and why we should celebrate that.”

CW: Is it about representation on screen? Is about representation off screen? Or is it both?

DW: It is both, and it is also culture. It is about how people behave in the industry. You know, work outside of our remit, which is also very cross-cutting in our remit, there's been happening around harassment, bullying, working hours. Whether that's #MeToo, Anti-racism work and transphobia work, all been happening around the work that we're doing. The direct diversity, historical diversity, I would say work, but it is all tied to the same thing.

The two questions we ask in Diamond: Who makes television in the UK? And who's on television in the UK? And they are the two pure questions that we ask, and the individuals who do these jobs or have these opportunities are asked to fill the form in. And then there is the idea of perceived data. So how do we perceive ourselves on television and how do we see ourselves represented is also a core part of this, so that's the other question that we ask, and that's more about, you know, when anyone turns on the television, what do you see?

CW: How important do you think it is that you have this data-driven approach to it, Deborah, as opposed to something which is just anecdotal evidence.

DW: It's critical. It makes a difference. We've been doing this for five years now and the difference that we can make when you enter a room, when you have a conversation with somebody, when somebody asks, “Where's the proof?” And the fact that we can open five years’ worth of reports and say this is the proof. We've watched things grow or decline. The basic premise is really simple. People fill a form in, we gather it on an annual basis, we do the analysis and publish the publisher report to say what the demographics look like, and it is based on the ONS. So it's based on the census data of what we think the population of this country is, and what we think the workforce of this country is.

At the moment our focus is around disability, so, if you are seeing that the population of this country is 20%, the people of work age are 17% and disabled people are 5%, in terms of off-screen representation. So, 17% of people in this country who are able, willing, and work, are disabled people. But our industry is only showing that at 5%. Well, 5.4%, to be exact. If you don't understand that there is a discrepancy there, there's a problem. There's something that needs to be resolved there. Just by looking at that, then it gives us, me, or other members of my team or other people who access the data, the opportunity to talk you through and talk about the sorts of interventions that can be designed, the sorts of policies that can be created to solve to look at reducing that, and to have a think about why that might be.

Secondary to that, it is also an opportunity to think about how you can look forward and how you can project. You know, we have a skills issue in our industry. We have an age issue in our industry. People are aging out and there is a massive skills gap between people who are, say, 24, 25 up to 40, 45, 50, and that's an enormous gap. And competitors outside of our membership are making more content, are making more drama, more reality television, more unscripted work, and they need people on the production side to be doing that. And so, if they're doing it, and they are probably more sexy and perceived to be more sexy and more aware, then what's the impact and implication for our industry and for our membership? That's enormous—that's huge.

So, we have to keep it fresh. We have to think about the future and think about who we are not talking to at the moment or encouraging to come into the industry at the moment and think of this industry as an opportunity to do what they want to do, what they enjoy doing, and what they're good at.

CW: So, Deborah, that data-driven approach that you've spoken about—I want to pick up on something you said towards the end there. There is a risk that the industry suffers by not being as inclusive as it should be. What do you think the benefits are from having a more diverse and more inclusive workforce on ultimately the programs that get produced?

DW: I think ultimately, it shines through when you can see, in terms of the perspectives that are included in the programs, you know, the stories that are told, how the stories are told, the perspective from which those stories are told. You can tell the difference when you have a diversity around director and camera operator. In particular, I think it's important on scripted side, but also on the side of current affairs, or the unscripted space in television. You can see in terms of researching and casting. And that's critical.

And I think the other bit is about a happy workforce, right? The other bit is people who are able to be comfortable with each other and themselves in their work environment are much happier and much more likely to be collaborative, be supportive, be engaged, and feel a part of something than people who think that it will work in silos and think that, you know, I'm the only one black person, gay person, disabled person in the organization, so I've got to carry all of that on my shoulders at the same time. It's trying to do my job.

CW: Yeah, I mean, one of the areas that we focus on in the podcast is looking at the news industry, so I wonder what your views are about how diverse the news industry is in the UK?

DW: See, now, once again, I could go on about this for days. Traditional new spaces, I think, have a problem. I think citizen journalism is becoming more respected, is gaining its reputation, is changing around the quality of that sort of journalism, and I think the current affairs space is the space where there is probably the best work being done, but nobody knows about it.

They won't let us collect the data and they won't let us publish the data, so we can't even have a conversation about what is actually like to be in a newsroom. However, there are lots and lots and lots of projects about diversity in journalism about press accreditation. On-screen, there has been some developments. In particular, I think in the Sky News space in the last two years, I think a lot of their on-screen presenters daytime and evening… you've seen the onscreen diversity, so you've seen gender and race and ethnicity, changed quite considerably. And actually, what I initially just me identifying this because, like I said, we don't have any data and we can't compare it against other datasets, people have had an opportunity to learn and grow, so they will start them in night slots, and then bring them into early morning starts and then they sort of get the primetime 6 till 10 slots. And I've seen that happen and seen people grow and actually some of them have grown and moved on to other newsrooms and moved-on to ICB or ITN. In particular, I guess in the UK, because ITN holds such a massive space in terms of news and primetime news in this country.

So, from what I have seen, and this is the anecdotal, there is an issue in newsrooms. From what I've seen as an individual, I've seen some progress, but I don't know if that's systematic and structural progress, or if that was somebody within one organization who thought they should do the right thing or try something different and that happening and you know, viola. Whether it was good but without any sense of sustainability or resilience or gross within the organization.

CW: One question that I want to ask is, is tokenism still a problem? And what I mean by that is that I've seen organizations which, for example, have got a disabled rights reporter and that person is disabled but they’re only ever seen doing stories about disability. They're not seen doing stories about politics or about football or about whatever it is. And I wonder if that is still—while yes, we've made this step and we have employed a disabled person who appears on screen, but in reality, that they're not really making best use of that. I'm interested in your view on that.

DW: Yes, it does exist. Yes, I recognize the example that you talked about. Yes, it is frustrating and annoying. It is something that has happened really, I think, in the last three or four years, where people have sort of been allocated an area, as opposed to a genre or space where they bring expertise with the knowledge. I find it troubling. I find it a new iteration of old fashioned, “Find me some black people, find me some disabled people.”

You know, there is a saying that my friends in Europe use: You cannot just add women and stir. And I think that is becoming more prevalent across other demographic groups. I think they're trying to stop adding women and stirring, but they are sort of going adding disabled and stir, and they are, and I find it troubling because actually I want to know what people are interested in. It is definitely boring to only talk to disabled people about disability. Uh, because once you get past the story, the horror stories of how questions people ask them, what happens to you in public spaces, and people’s bathroom provision. There isn't really much else to tell. Right? Once you've done this for things, you just turn the same stories over and over and over again. Whereas actually you're not then talking to a fully rounded individual, you're not then seeking out somebody who can bring a different insight on a different level of understanding or engagement to politics, to housing, to economics, to you know… I've mentioned it before, but to engineering and to science, to data, to any of those things. You're pigeon-holing somebody and then when you get tired of disability, that person disappears because they've not had the opportunity to grow and develop. So, yes, it's I think it's really important and I think it's important that we talk about it and say it, and recognize it, and acknowledge it, and not pretend that it doesn't happen.

CW: One of the areas that you also try to help and work with is identifying best practice, and then sharing that best practice. So I wonder if you could maybe give us some examples of the kind of work that has been done that you have seen as a tangible benefit at the end of it, to those things being implemented.

DW: We're still [inaudible] really interestingly, but I do think that some of the some of the smaller schemes that organizations did, you know, maybe 10 or 15 years ago that weren't really evaluated, but we can now sort of go back and reflect on that have been useful. The one I will talk about is the extended program at the BBC, where that was on the journalism side, and that was about bringing people in who were interested in journalism and giving them a yearlong opportunity to work with in BBC News across whichever space they wanted to. And then sort of extend themselves into different genres. And I think that's been really useful. And, you know, talking to people, in particular disabled people, I see that they, you know, “I did extend 10 years ago,” or, “I did extend, you know, seven years ago, but nothing really happened.” Or, you know, “the process was good.” So, I think there's a lot of process with practice going on. Which we’re also trying to harness and bring together, but the evaluation side of that is challenging and not many people do it.

CW: Does this have to be driven from the top of our organization, Deborah? Do you think this is something that can kind of bubble through to other areas?

DW: Experience has shown over five years that it bubbles through from other areas, and I think it's really good. And, you know, a lot of people we've come across in the last five years at CDN actually who have been driving this, actually don't work in the diversity space within their organizations or within their business. It's either something that they like, it's something that they have experience of, or it's something that they see is actually a business-critical tool that is underutilized and underused.

So, that's important and I think it's great. That's really, really important. But in order for someone to do something, in order for change to really happen, the decision maker has to say they want to make it happen, and they want it to happen. So, the decision maker is usually somebody in the C-Suite or at executive level, or somebody with a “chief-something” at the front of their name and they are the ones that need to be saying yes. And that's what makes the most difference and it makes the most difference the quickest. Right, because if your Chief Financial Officer says, “I want this to happen,” everybody is going to run at breakneck speed to make it happen, and unfortunately, that's the way it is. But that's what that's what happens, and I think that's as important as somebody in the production team who thinks it's really important that we figure out how we can make our sets wheelchair accessible, our locations and sets, wheelchair accessible for our continuing drama because we've got three continuing dramas in the country and have wheelchair users, and we still don't really have accessible sets and accessible locations.

CW: So, Deborah, with the best will in the world, both you and I have been involved in the industry for quite some time, and we're not quite as young as we once were. But I'm wondering if you see the position being better for younger people trying to come into the industry or where you still see them facing many challenges?

DW: I think it is better for some of the demographic groups. For younger people. I think socioeconomic status (so, class), I think around gender, I think around the LGBTQ+ space… I absolutely I think that there has been enormous progress that people can point to and identify and use to leverage. I do think, however, that when people speak about young people, they speak about it in a siloed way. So they're doomed to repeat some of the mistakes that have historically happened, so working it one demographic group at a time, as opposed to the cross-cutting grouping, or you know, as you know the word people are using is intersectional approach, which is, you know… When you talk about young people, do you talk about, you know, young lesbian, disabled lesbians? Or do you talk about lesbians, disabled young people, and young people as homogeneous group. Now, are there three groups now? Or are there multiple identities that can sit within one group?

So, I think it's better if it's from a siloed perspective. But I still think there's a lot of work to be done around the intersectional understanding of the complexity of identity, and especially now because young people are having that identity conversation and the getting-to-know self, and understanding who they are, conversation, which means that the language that we use is out of date or feels dated, or is perceived to be dated, and so there's a whole other conversation about a identity, and what that means in the diversity space.

CW: You also mentioned that socioeconomic factors, again, is that a barrier for people to try to get in? For example, if I want to come in and I want to be a journalist, you know, the route that many people take now, of course, is to go to university and do journalism courses or do some kind of media course. So, I wonder, again, if that is still seen as a barrier as well?

DW: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there are much more bursary options available for all television society bursaries and I know that there's a lot of support from them. I know at ITN we're trying to do some work via Channel 4 News with their relocation and their nations and regions conversation around that which is probably, you know, I've not heard much about it, so it's probably been delayed because of, you know, the last 18 months, but I would like to see much of that happening and like to see people being proactive and determined about that, instead of it being a or “We do this thing because…”

Actually, folding,  starting from that perspective, and saying it costs X-amount of thousands of pounds a year to do a course. Most courses last, you know, one year, 18 months, two years, part time, full time to part time. If we are seeking people who have a different understanding of society, climate change, environment, economics, so we're not going to find them from the group of people that will go to university or can afford to go to university or even think of university as an option.

CW: Obviously, the focus of the organization is with the companies here in the UK, but I'm also interested Deborah, what you think of the position internationally. You know, are there other organizations like the CDN working internationally to try to promote diversity and inclusion, or what else needs to be done to try to support that?

DW: So, were ahead of the game in this country. That's the irony. We are so far ahead in this country.

One of my colleagues who runs the Diamond, the monitoring system, was in Lyon last week, invited to a conference in France, and the question was, you know, is European television ready for diversity? And so, they are all asking themselves that question.

There's one other organization that exists in my knowledge similar to CDN which is in Australia, and I've done some work with them in Australia and we continually try and support them because it's incredibly hard to build an organization like this, but nowhere else there in terms of a monitoring system. They have a similar project to us that we supported them in the design stages of, but, at the moment, it's just sort of a database that collects information. There is no reporting, publishing, or analysis of that data, so there is stuff going in, but there's nothing coming out on the other end of that. There is a nothing that exists across film anywhere in the world, and there is nothing that is listed as television anywhere in the world in terms of the work we're doing, the research approach, the industrial and strategic and structural level we work at.

Some businesses do it within themselves, and as you know, the competitive edge for these businesses means that people are always always holding onto stuff, whereas in the space that we hold, with the commitment is from all of our members. That commitment is to share and is to collaborate. It is not to not to be competitive.

So, despite everything, our members are leading the way, are champions, and are pioneers in many ways around this work across the television industry.

CW: So, Deborah, my final question—which is the one I ask everyone on the podcast—What is it, when you look at the landscape of what you're involved in at the moment, if anything, that keeps you awake at night?

DW: Everything! To whistle that down for the moment we are in, is the talk of “back to normal.” And it's the talk of recovery. And people not necessarily understanding the implications of what we've been through over the last 18 months and the impact of that on our industry, on our creators, and particularly on disabled people within television space. It is keeping me awake and I'm very, very worried because nobody upon no one has come to us and asked us about, or to be involved in, or to have any sort of conversation about the, you know, what for disabled people in our industry as part of back-to-normal and recovery. And it's troublesome.

CW: Really thought-provoking information there from Deborah and I just want to say thanks again to her for joining me on the podcast. What do you think? Let me know either via email—the address is [email protected], or on social. I'm @CraigAW1969 on both Twitter and Instagram. If you want to find out more information about what we've been discussing, then check out the show notes where you can find information about the Creative Diversity Network and another podcast where we discuss ensuring staff mental health is looked after in a busy newsroom.

That's all for this episode. Thanks, as always, to you for taking the time to listen. And please don't forget to subscribe to get notified when the next episode is out. Leave a review and share with your friends and colleagues to spread the word. Thanks to our producer Matt Diggs. I'm Craig Wilson. Join me next time for more on the background to making the media.

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