Published on: 30 September 2021 in Industry

Ofcom publishes review of Diversity and Equal Opportunities in UK Broadcasting

Reading time: 5 minutes and 21 seconds

This week Ofcom published its 5-year review of Diversity and Equal Opportunities in UK Broadcasting: Diversity and equal opportunities in TV and radio.

Our Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Victoria Morris, reflects on the report findings and recommendations:

Ofcom began officially collecting data on diversity in broadcasting in 2016/17, requiring UK broadcasters to provide annual reports on the race, gender and disability characteristics of the people they employ in order to examine how representative their workforces are.  

Having published our own reports on the underrepresentation of women directors in 2014 and 2018, and of directors of colour in 2015 and in 2018, and being in constant touch with our membership, we know that that lack of representation in the industry is a very real problem – and has been for a long time.

It’s also fair to say that, for those affected by the lack of equal opportunity in our industry, this focus on data gathering and reporting can be frustrating in the face of slow change. 

However, it is easier for broadcasters and the industry to ignore the need for change if they can say they don’t know that a gap exists - as our own initial research confirmed. Data means it can’t be ignored.  

This latest report from Ofcom has gone further than its usual annual reporting and has looked back over the last 5 years of data to track trends and assess progress. They have also commissioned external analysis from Included to dig deeper into the data to make future projections and gather insights from a cross-section of the industry. Directors UK contributed to this qualitative research and some of our comments are referenced in their report: Diversity in Broadcasting: Included report.

We are currently digesting the full details of the latest report, but here are some of our initial observations. 

Many of the findings and recommendations in Ofcom’s report reflect much of what Directors UK has been highlighting over the years as areas where the industry is falling short, and where we have been calling for and trying to implement change. 

Key takeaways from the report include:

  • Female employees are more likely to leave the TV and radio industries
  • The proportion of TV employees who are disabled is projected to fall over the next five years
  • Minority representation has improved – but remains poor at senior levels
  • It highlights the impact of both recruitment and retention on improving diversity going forwards
  • Ofcom calls on the industry to focus on retaining and developing diverse talent; to report the success or failure of diversity initiatives more transparently; and to improve data collection and reporting.

The report’s focus is on data about employees of the UK broadcasters. As such it doesn’t include comprehensive freelancer data. Although Ofcom do ask the broadcasters to report on it, as they have no legal mandate to require the reporting of freelancer data, it is largely incomplete.

Ofcom quite rightly acknowledges that this lack of knowledge about freelancers is a major data gap that will impede progress, but recognises its own limitations in gathering this. It’s worth noting here that Directors UK has long been calling on Ofcom to be given statutory powers to obtain freelance data.

The report also highlights the role that CDN’s Diamond is meant to play in gathering freelancer data. 

Diamond itself has limitations in that is dependent on self-reporting by freelancers – and its last report showed a response rate of between 28% and 31% across the broadcasters. Many of us representing freelancers also feel that, as Diamond only reports top-level data, it is harder to identify and target where interventions are needed. 

There is still a huge amount that is unknown about the make-up and employment of the workforce as a whole, and therefore it is difficult to know what actions might help to genuinely improve things. This lack of understanding of the true nature of the freelancer workforce is a real and ongoing concern for us. 

From our perspective, the recommendations in Ofcom’s report align with the work we continue to do to try to improve equal opportunities and representation in our sector. 

Particularly relevant is the report’s focus on the impact of retention and career progression as a key factor in improving diversity. We know that the retention level of talented workers in the industry is poor. This is why our Career Development offering is largely aimed at supporting mid-career directors who, because of a lack of focus on progression and systemic issues that culminate in allowing only a few to succeed, have felt their careers stall and have had no choice other than to seek employment in another sector. 

The report also supports our argument to the industry about the importance of evaluating the effectiveness of diversity initiatives rather than continually launching new ones. It also reflects the focus we have recently been giving to directors with disabilities, and our repeated calls for improvements in data gathering of freelance workers.  

If the industry genuinely wants to be diverse, then it needs to formalise its recruitment and working practices, put long term structures in place for support and development of talent, and it needs to be transparent in its reporting – so we can see what efforts are working, and what are not. 

There is much more to unpack from the reports, but we continue to hope that the gathering and reporting of data will hold our industry to account, and that underrepresented workers cannot continue to be ignored. 

Read the full Ofcom report.

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