Unions can help broadcasters reverse their “woeful” record on diversity

  • 29 Sep 2021

More women are leaving broadcasting than joining and the representation of disabled people and diversity in senior positions is woeful, according to the UK’s industry watchdog Ofcom.

Its five-year review said some progress had been made – there are twice as many people working in radio from minority-ethnic backgrounds than there were three years ago, but present trends mean the proportion of TV employees who are disabled will fall over the next five years, and so will that of female radio employees.

Natasha Hirst, chair of the Equality Council, said:

"This is a woeful performance from the broadcasting industry. Improving diversity requires a long-term commitment and a full understanding of the barriers that prevent workers from under-represented backgrounds from entering and progressing their careers in broadcasting. 
“Glossy policies and lip-service about inclusion are an insult to all of us. Employers should work closely with the unions and groups with lived experience to create sustained culture change and opportunities for diverse groups to reach their potential.

“The lack of representation of diverse groups in senior roles shows that initiatives to get people into the industry are not supported by ongoing opportunities to progress. Without diverse leadership, not much will change. Diversity throughout broadcasting is vital for representing our communities, reducing divisions in society, and increasing trust in journalism. It's time for broadcasters to take this seriously."

Paul Siegert, NUJ national broadcasting organiser said:

“Today’s review by Ofcom doesn’t come as a surprise. We have been telling broadcasters for some time that they need to do more to keep hold of older women and people with disabilities. Often broadcasters are great at attracting disabled workers but not very good at keeping them. They need to ask themselves why this is. The answer may come if they do more to nurture and promote people from these backgrounds into senior roles. The NUJ has been fighting for equal pay in broadcasting and is also willing to help broadcasters to put in place policies that encourage fuller representation of their viewers and listeners in the workforce.”

The review on equal opportunities and diversity in broadcasting backed anecdotal comments from NUJ members who have said older women are disappearing from behind as well as in front of the camera and microphone. The report found that only 16 per cent of women in the TV workforce are aged 50-plus (compared with 22 per cent of men and 32 per cent of the working age population).

Ofcom said the disabled population was woefully underrepresented in the broadcasting industry and that despite encouraging initiatives in recent years, both TV and radio reported industry-wide representation at 7 per cent, less than half the UK benchmark of 19 per cent in 2020/21.

Ofcom’s data found that TV employees were almost twice as likely to have had parents in professional occupations (59 per cent compared to the UK benchmark of 33 per cent) and to have attended private school (13 per compared with a UK average of 7 per cent), with 17 per cent of radio employees having been educated privately.

Vikki Cook, Ofcom’s director of broadcasting policy, said:

“For the first time, more people are leaving the industry than joining, particularly women, while disabled people remain significantly underrepresented. And because companies have focused on entry-level recruitment, there is not enough diverse talent in senior roles.”

Ofcom told broadcasters they need to:

  • Focus on retention, progression and senior recruitment in order to diversify the sector sustainably at all levels and set retention targets.
  •  Improve the quantity and quality of data collected on their workforce, and include information on socioeconomic background, geographic location, sexual orientation and religion/belief. 
  • Provide Ofcom with intersectional data.
  • Share effective practice and collaborate across the industry players – including their production partners – to create a more inclusive sector for everyone.

Five-year review: diversity and equal opportunities in UK broadcasting

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