We can all play a role in reaching broader racial audiences
If you’re a business leader from a non-white ethnic background, you’ll understand the struggle it is to see yourself represented in the media. We’ve come a long way in the last 10 years but there is still a long way to go.
Thanks to the contribution of high-profile black and Asian figures like Lenny Henry, Riz Ahmed and the Duchess of Sussex, we are seeing better portrayals of the country’s diversity. There are also many people and organisations that work tirelessly behind the scenes to educate the UK’s mainstream media on the necessity of better representation. But it doesn’t hurt to say it again, there is still plenty more to be done.
It seems there is still a misunderstanding of why representation is necessary. Well in simple terms, it’s hard to be what you can’t see – and that impacts heavily from childhood. If children from BAME backgrounds don’t see themselves authentically portrayed in TV dramas or films, or hear from politicians, successful entrepreneurs or even astronauts that look like them in the media, they’re less likely to think that those industries are open to them.
“If you are a business leader from an ethnic minority group, it’s crucial to look at how you can use PR to share your stories. And it doesn’t have to revolve around an ethnic issue but sharing your business or life story from the perspective of a person of colour is important.”
A 2017 Ofcom report on the UK’s television industry revealed ethnic minority employees at the main five broadcasters made up 12 per cent of the workforce, below the population average of 14 per cent. At senior levels, representation was worse as BAME people only held six per cent of these roles at the BBC.
Perhaps most tellingly, a main issue for Ofcom was the “dearth of data” with which it worked – the industry could only offer ethnicity data on 81 per cent of its staff, so representation levels could likely be worse. Statistics from 2016 also found that a staggering 94 per cent of journalists in the UK are white, meaning many newsrooms in the country are exclusively white. Diversity here is vital to properly reflect – and cover – society.
Black broadcaster, Marverine Cole, who’s worked for the BBC, Sky News, ITN Productions and Channel 5 News, believes that the crux of the issue is at the recruitment level: “Mainstream broadcasters are lacking in diversity across the board – not just ethnic communities but also when it comes to disability, LGBTQ+ and class. They are irrelevant dinosaurs, ignoring diversity like a fly they swat in the hope it will go away and they no longer have to deal with it.
“Twitter hashtags like #DiversityDeficit (by Simon Albury) who highlights the all-white TV crews snapped on the final day’s filming by the production teams of some of the UK’s biggest shows, [reveals] there is a big problem.”
This is why if you are a business leader from an ethnic minority group, it’s crucial to look at how you can use PR to share your stories. And it doesn’t have to revolve around an ethnic issue but sharing your business or life story from the perspective of a person of colour is important.
Companies and organisations are continuing to take steps to improve BAME representation in the media. The BBC, as the UK’s largest broadcaster, has a goal to have a workforce comprising a more accurate 15 per cent people from ethnic minority backgrounds. In theory, this should help narrow the cultural gap between those making the programmes and the millions who watch them, as well as increase authentic stories from, and for, a broader range of the country’s population.
London Metropolitan University proudly boasts a higher proportion of BAME student journalists than all of the Russell Group universities combined. It’s also started a network to help those students overcome the traditional hurdles of no contacts or previous experience, so that they can help build a more diverse media after graduation.
National schemes like Creative Access have been ensuring a higher proportion of diversity in Britain’s creative industries. It has placed over 1,500 candidates in internships, with an 87 per cent conversion rate into permanent employment. The Taylor Bennett Foundation offers similar support for BAME candidates looking for a career in communications, and has won awards for its inclusivity and mentoring. Even major international companies like EY – one of the ‘Big 4’ accounting firms – is focusing on fresher, better diversity drives because it recognises the value representation will bring to the company, as well as the growth.
Marverine warns that programmes for BAME new talent shouldn’t be the sole focus: “For decades the industry has boosted its entry-level schemes. But that is to the detriment of retaining the skilled and experienced BAME staff they already have. Samira Ahmed’s tribunal around equal pay and the treatment of Naga Munchetty over her comments about racism show that institutions like the BBC are ill-equipped for today’s world.”
“As a spending force, the BAME community held £300bn per year back in 2012 – and that’s only been rising. It’s simple business sense to ensure this purchasing potential doesn’t go untapped.”
As we seek to improve BAME representation across media, sectors and across the UK, the hope would be that it would impact society so that we grow to understand each other better. A broadening of employees’ backgrounds in businesses only means broader perspectives and prospects for those businesses in the future. This is even more vital in the media, an industry tasked with setting the daily agenda.
If you’re a member of the media, think beyond your usual contributor base to someone from a diverse community that could provide extra insight and value to your work.
There are take-outs for everyone. For businesses, make sure you’re getting your message out to every part of the community. Make sure you target campaigns towards ethnic and minority audiences too. As a spending force, the BAME community held £300bn per year back in 2012 – and that’s only been rising. It’s simple business sense to ensure this purchasing potential doesn’t go untapped.
And if you’re from a non-white ethnic background, recognise that your contribution is extremely valuable.
This is an area we are passionate about and we enjoy working at all levels to make a change. So, if you’re a BAME busines, wondering how to navigate the minefield of the media; an organisation wanting to appropriately and effectively speak to different cultural audiences; or a journalist looking for more diverse contributors in your stories, get in touch today to discuss the power of representation.