30 Jan 2014

Counting ethnic minority, female, older, disabled and gay people on telly, at last

So brilliant – they are going to start counting. I’m delighted. Now let’s make it count.

It only took about twenty years. Ever since I’ve been going to diversity events for the TV industry there was really only one thing we all wanted : for every major TV company to start counting in a standardised way the diversity of its workforce. And then to publish it. Finally, at long last, it appears the Creative Diversity Network has got them to agree. Well, I say that. The Guardian write-up doesn’t seem to know if they’ll publish it, but surely they couldn’t possibly get away with not doing so? That would undermine their credibility utterly, wouldn’t it?

“It’s a paper exercise”, cries one of my followers on twitter. Well yes. Or no. Maybe a computer exercise. But once published figures become hard to ignore. The relentless determination of Broadcast magazine to monitor gender balance on TV and radio has undoubtedly had an impact. It made people think, at least, about the gender balance of senior management, presenters, guests and experts. The same can only be true of counting other things on which people are discriminated against.

It isn’t that TV is populated by sexist, racist, homophobic louts who can’t stand old people and think disabled people are stupid. If anything it is the very fact that TV is run by liberal (small l) minded, reasonable types who can’t imagine being prejudiced themselves that is the problem. They don’t see their own natural prejudice, because they can’t imagine having any. But human beings are generally drawn to people like themselves – and even the bold ones who seek out something different need to find things they recognise and identify with. Like minds often come from like backgrounds. That can too often work against diversity.

In my twenty five years in TV I’ve seen ethnic diversity, for example, race up the agenda and then plummet once the largely white, male, middle class population who still run the industry thought they’d largely solved the problem. But the same issues have existed for years : the fact a few prominent ethnic minority faces have made it onto the telly has done nothing to promote diversity among the boss class, and diversity has often meant a type being targeted for a bit whether Asians one minute or Africans the next. And the priority to bring in a truly diverse workforce at the bottom has dropped down the agenda. The industry too seems more middle class and privileged than ever. The old excuses of not being able to find the talent won’t wash in 2014. There is loads of it out there. This is a complex problem about risk, recruitment, promotion, nurturing and commitment. So brilliant – they are going to start counting. I’m delighted. Now let’s make it count.