When “Ryder meets Davie” gets reported in the Mail, The Times, the Guardian, the Independent and internationally in Variety and Deadline – it becomes the UK diversity equivalent of “Reagan meets Gorbachev” and “Nixon meets Zhou Enlai.”
It’s big. Something good must come of it.
June Sarpong was appointed to the new BBC Director of Creative Diversity role in 2019. It is a measure of the scale of the historic challenges the BBC faces on race and diversity that the BBC salary for the role is £267,000 a year for a three-day week, equating to an annual salary of £445,000.
June Sarpong is on the BBC Executive Committee, bringing extensive experience and knowledge which had been woefully lacking before. Sarpong has been modest about her achievements over the past two years but with Steve McQueen’s Small Axe, Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You, she may feel she had no need to blow her own trumpet. In June this year, June received an OBE for services to broadcasting.
But June Sarpong has been clear about the big gap in her remit. She has no responsibility for News, Current Affairs or workplace Diversity and Inclusion.
The BBC needs a Director of Diversify and Inclusion who can also take responsibility for News and Current Affairs. It has been in this area that many of the BBC’s most high profile diversity and inclusion issues have arisen in recent years, from the reversal of the decision to discipline Naga Munchetty to the reversal of the decision to defend the use of the N-word at Breakfast time.
The BBC must stop turning a blind eye racism, its weakest area when it comes to diversity and inclusion. The BBC must now confront the issue of racism head on.
In June 2018, Tim Davie published a ground-breaking report. For the first time the BBC recognised the problems it faced on BAME employment. Although the word “racism” was not used, the report admitted findings which indicate systemic racial inequality:
- Some BAME staff have a sense of exclusion and isolation leading to high attrition rates in parts of the organisation;
- Editors use of “creative freedom” can stifle BAME staff so that their ideas do not flourish. More needs to be done to tackle this to ensure the BBC reflects the public it serves;
- There is a sense that opportunities are lacking for BAME staff development and progression. Some believe this is the result of favouritism conscious bias, and a lack of understanding of other cultures;
- An inconsistent approach across the BBC’s policy and procedures, which permits noncompliance – without compliance, action cannot be taken. Action needs to be taken to ensure greater accountability and to tackle perceptions of favouritism;
- Inconsistent approach to recruitment protocols which result in restricted pockets of excellence.
The report came with a set of recommendations and Tim Davie said his aim was to create:
“a world class organisation with a truly diverse and inclusive culture that allows people to do their best work and thrive.”
It didn’t happen. The death of George Floyd revealed how much more work was needed. Floyd’s death prompted BBC Embrace to hold two events where racism could be explored by BBC staff. The first was chaired by Dotun Adebayo and the second by Clive Myrie. At these meetings many spoke or messaged movingly about their experience of racism in the BBC and how racial issues were managed.
One person said:
“The BBC wants us to champion and scream for it, but it doesn’t scream for me. It puts me on the other side of the barricade, where I scream, where we scream. We scream without raising our voices. We scream at the injustice. We scream at the inequality. We scream at the lack of communication. We scream at the lack of progression. We scream at the lack of action. We scream to be heard. When will you scream for us, BBC?”
Clive Myrie read a comment which said:
“When I started at the BBC, (this is an anonymous attendee to the session), my manager was introducing me to other colleagues and when I stretched out my hand to shake a white colleague’s hand they refused to shake my hand. No, they were not sick – and no their hands were not dirty. They basically said, I didn’t need to know them therefore, I didn’t need to shake their hand. I didn’t think it was a joke. It was a terrible first impression to make and it even happened around several white people who all laughed at my expense. I was very uncomfortable with that interaction. I’m still uncomfortable with that colleague today.”
At the end of the first meeting, Shoku Amirani, the Chair of BBC Embrace, concluded:
“Please don’t underestimate the emotional toll it takes on people to speak up for their rights and risk being seen as a troublemaker. It is exhausting. I just want to sum up and say that we’re collecting all your current comments and we will feed these back to leaders. We’ve had over 500 questions. We’ve had almost 2000 people listening.”
At the end of the second meeting, Anne Foster, BBC Head of Workforce Diversity and Inclusion, talked about the review of the current BBC diversity and inclusion strategy. Foster told the meeting:
“This is about structurally what can we do to tackle systemic inequality. When we publish what’s happened with the cultural progression work, we also still want to say to people, what do you think has happened? What hasn’t happened? Where are the barriers still? So that our next strategy, which will be a three years strategy, on which we intend to be able to demonstrate that long term foot-to-the-pedal to make progress will be based on people’s actual feedback and not – I could come up with a strategy with Miranda (Wayland) with my finger in the air but that’s not what we want to do.”
BBC Diversity & Inclusion Plan 2021 – 2023
In February 2021, Foster’s BBC Diversity & Inclusion Plan 2021 – 2023 was published without fanfare. It made no reference to “systemic inequality” nor to any of the examples of racism provided to the Dotun Adebayo and Clive Myrie BBC Embrace meetings. It did indicate the scale of the problem and the need for change.
The report led with a quote from BBC Director-General, Tim Davie:
“Our ambition is to create a transformed, modern organisation where you are happy, treated fairly, doing outstanding creative work, clear about expectations and focused on delivering value for all. Everything we do relies on us attracting and retaining the finest talent by creating an inclusive, diverse, inspiring and trusted environment. There is much to be proud of, but we must make changes. We want everyone to commit to making a better culture.”
In a Foreword, Anne Foster Head of Workforce Diversity & Inclusion wrote:
“I hope these commitments show that we’re serious about the action we must take to be more representative of our audiences and to create a more inclusive working environment where each person feels welcomed, valued and can thrive. We have a lot of work to do to meet this ambition.”
The BBC needs to up its game. The BBC now needs to fill the gaps in June Sarpong’s remit with a senior level appointment.
Is it too much to hope that when Marcus Ryder meets Tim Davie, Tim Davie will propose Ryder consider adding the role of Director of Diversity and Inclusion to his portfolio and plug the gaps which need to be filled?
25 October 2021