Ofcom recently published their five-year review on diversity and equal opportunities in TV and Radio [pdf]. It’s an interesting one because a few things are gradually coming together now. So, for example, on disability, they now are able to see the disability status of 76% of the TV workforce and of 85% of radio employees, which means that they can start to develop a much clearer evidence-base on this.
That sort of good news ends there though. Bectu has previously expressed disappointment with the Project Diamond data, particularly with the lack of progress on improving diversity in broadcasting. We noted that there are some improvements in on-screen representation, but that the trend appears to be in the opposite direction for a number of under-represented groups off-screen.
For some years now, the union has been calling for broadcasters to publish programme level data as this would highlight the good work happening on some shows, and crucially which areas need help.
This frustration is reflected in Ofcom’s work and they have commented on how – where information is provided on a voluntary basis (e.g. religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic background), or where they don’t have established data collection practices (e.g. geographic location, gender identity, intersectional data on where different characteristics combine), they can’t say too much with any confidence.
Generally, their report claims that there is a good general trend towards an industry which is more representative of the UK working population, particularly in terms of ethnicity. Where minority ethnic groups were particularly underrepresented in 2017/18, they are less so now across the workforce as a whole. One success story seems to be in radio which appears to have made a good deal of progress (though this is from a low base in earlier research).
For example, people from minority ethnic groups made up 6% of the radio workforce in 2017/18 but are now at 10% (compared with 12% of the UK working-age population).
Again though, any gains are small and the pandemic has taken a lot of bets off the table – a lot of strategies are in a mess and the data is hard to interpret.
In particular, due to the pandemic, we are seeing for the first time the number of people leaving the industry outweighs the number joining it. Women, in particular, are disproportionately represented in those leavers. Projections suggest that if we continue on the same path, the proportion of TV employees who are disabled will fall over the next five years, and so will that of radio employees who are female.
The report is particularly critical of the lack of diversity within senior positions and key decision-makers. There is some promising news on the promotion of minority ethnic colleagues in TV, though even this data is inconclusive and it may reflect promotions into junior management grades rather than any real change at the top.
There’s also a particularly strong message for Bectu. (Ofcom say) broadcasters appear to have focused on entry-level recruitment at the expense of retaining diverse staff and enabling them to progress.
All of our experience shows that, when wages are low, or working conditions are difficult, diversity is damaged. In particular, the representation of women falls, and people who have a strong safety net are more able to adapt to changing demands at work – a luxury less available to people in under-represented groups.
Diversity also covers an industry’s ability to retain older workers, and there’s not much evidence in Ofcom’s report of progress on this issue – only 16% of women in the TV workforce are aged 50+ (compared with 22% of men and 32% of the working-age population).
Ofcom’s top recommendation is one that, I suspect, most Bectu branches would agree with – that retaining staff would have a bigger effect on future diversity than increasing recruitment alone. Ofcom’s projections are that – across Radio – just a 1% decrease in the proportion of disabled and minority ethnic people leaving the industry would boost representation more over the next five years than a similar increase in recruitment alone.
Protecting diversity is not just an entry-level concern – retention is as important.