Philippa Thomas Online

Occasional thoughts about life, books and news.

Walking the talk on #Diversity at Work

1 Comment

“Walk the talk”. “Turn the dial”. “We need to hardwire diversity”.

 

And – “You can’t improve on what you can’t measure”. “People can’t shy away from the data”.

 

These are some of my takeaways from the BBC Diversity and Inclusion in Media event I hosted on 15th September in the stately venue of the Old Broadcasting House council chamber. Essential ingredients : some inspiring talkers, audience interaction, and a networking session with cream tea laid on.

 

Anne Bulford Deputy Director General said she was committed to “a truly open BBC at all levels”. By 2020, she said, “if we get this right, we will have a workforce at least as diverse as any in the industry”.  Managers must “visibly lead by example”.

 

“Diversity” for our speakers was about gender, about disability, about ethnicity and about LGBT inclusion too. A question from the audience about enabling people who are economically disadvantaged also prompted quite a few nods. (I commented that “class still matters” but I don’t think that was the PC term for me to use.)

 

Toby Mildon, Diversity Lead for the BBC Design and Engineering division, gave us the tag line “Diversity includes everyone”. Later in the session Frances Duffy of Capgemini said that has to include the white middle aged man as well.  Toby strongly underlined one of the session’s key points for me: there’s a lot of talk about D&I (i.e. Diversity and Inclusion) but one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other. It’s a warning I’ve also heard brilliantly made by the writer and corporate activist Margaret Heffernan. But I’m not sure it is taken to heart by managers who appoint staff – you need to pull together a diverse workforce as step one – And ALSO make individuals feel valued and encouraged to speak out, to collaborate, and to strive to raise the game of the workforce.

 

Toby said it’s sometimes overlooked that the BBC is a technical organisation – it needs to reach out to remind potential recruits in design and engineering and tech just how big an employer it is. He talked about BBC experimentation with blind skills recruiting. He said it gets results. Candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds are three times as likely to be shortlisted. And he revealed that tweaking the wording in job descriptions has led to more women applying.

 

A good number of the panellists and organisations represented in the room are already signed up to the Ten Steps programme of WISE – Women in Science and Engineering. Suzy Firkin described it as “sort of a pledge programme but more – we give you the tools and techniques to make a difference”. More than 150 organisations are now signed up and subscribing to WISE. Suzy revealed their feedback on the easiest and toughest steps to take. The hardest, once again this year, is “educate leaders”.

 

One of the companies in the room that’s already an enthusiastic supporter of WISE is Virgin Media. Jo Dutton is now director of Strategy, Insight and Data for the Customer Division. She talked about new efforts to recruit and to retain diverse talent. Among those, getting genuinely diverse interview panels. Was there resistance to that shift, I asked her? No – she’s been overwhelmed with volunteers.

 

Rachel Higham is MD, CIO, BT group – working in what’s traditionally an overwhelmingly male environment. She has a great PowerPoint on her TechWomen initiative – what’s been done and what still needs doing. The women in the programme have four points of help – a buddy, a mentor, a coach AND a sponsor. These are all different roles. But it’s a two way street: the programme requires that you “Drive Your Development”.  She says they are aiming for 30% women executives by 2020. Too many are still “stuck in middle management treacle”!  She advocates a “full life cycle” approach – all the way up to getting frank feedback in departure interviews, and aiming to make those who leave into either advocates or rejoiners.

 

“We want to mainstream diversity” said Nina Bhagwat, Off Screen Diversity Executive for Channel Four. She talked about the creative AND business case for doing so. Following the channel’s coverage of the 2012 Paralympics, this year she said “two thirds of our presenting team is disabled”. Offscreen targets include 50% apprenticeships and 30% work placements.

 

Aleya Karim talked about the significant changes made at McKinsey, as part of the 30% club aimed at getting a minimum of 30% women on FTSE-100 boards. She noted the importance of gender diversity targets being included in board updates. Aleya’s presentation also followed up on Nina’s point about efficacy: “Diverse leadership teams perform better financially.”

 

Our final panellist Frances Duffy works for tech consultants Capgemini as VP and Regional HR director, North and West Europe and UK Country Director. She talked frankly about how hard it is to shift the dial. She said the message has to be – to the middle aged white guy too – one of “active inclusion”. Capgemini started its new programme to that end only six months ago. But already in a diversity survey of the entire company population, she said there was 50% response and a lot of suggestions for change.

 

Hayley Sudbury then brought us a demo – of her new Werkin smartphone app designed to gather data, talent and enthusiasm within an organization to trouble-shoot all sorts of challenges – large and small.

 

She talked about using your “sparks” better – HR speak that’s new to me – and that’s my final takeaway from a session with a lot of fresh thinking to offer.

 

Author: philippathomas

I've been a BBC newswoman for 28 years: reporting from around the world. Currently to be seen anchoring BBC World News TV. Main interests - politics, diplomacy, tech, media, arts and all things American. I began this personal blog as a 2011 Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard. You can also find me talking daily news on Twitter at @PhilippaBBC, and sharing anything from travel photos to my year in books on Instagram at @philippanews. Thanks for reading!

One thought on “Walking the talk on #Diversity at Work

  1. Discrimination matters, diversity, in many cases not so much. Equal opportunities matter, complaining we don’t like the outcome of free choice – that’s politics not harm done.

    Conflating a mismatch between the make up of society, and a specific profession, with discrimination is simplistic student politics – and if there is no proven discrimination why would an organisation need to institutionalise employee selection bias for anything other than dubious ideological reasons(in many cases)?

    There are many points in your post I could address but I’ll raise one that isn’t generally talked about – diversity of physical appearance in TV broadcasting.

    A few years ago I was reading my local newspaper and there were the usual selection of photos from minor public events and local organisations. One of the photos was a group of women, perhaps about a dozen, lined up like a school class year photo – but one of them looked completely out of place. All the other women looked typical of my everyday experience but one looked far more, oddly, physically attractive than the others. I checked the names of the subjects, in fact that woman was my local TV weather presenter who I had watched often but never considered to have an appearance that was out of the ordinary in the context of TV.

    People who look ordinary, or plain, or even “ugly” are less likely to appear on TV – even in serious roles like journalism. If we’re being honest, that’s a euphemism – TV companies deliberately use physical attractiveness to attract viewers.

    People use the media to help judge what standards of physical appearance are acceptable or worthy of derision in the real world – and if the media’s standards for appearance are artificial then that’s not a positive influence on society. The UK is, of course, not(normally) as bad as the US where even local news anchors typically look like catalogue models or aspiring Hollywood actors/actresses but the issue is still there.

    My BBC region recently had a presenter with a noticeable limb deformity, but they weren’t an “ugly” presenter with a limb deformity – because for the BBC and other TV companies that would be a step too far.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s