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How we're improving diversity and inclusion at the BBC

Tunde Ogungbesan

Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Succession

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Reports at the weekend about the BBC’s approach to diversity provide a very one-sided view. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the action we are taking to improve the representation of black, Asian and other minority communities has been limited and, even worse, that we do not care about the issue.

I’m new to the BBC, I come with a fresh perspective from the world of business and I can tell you this is not a picture I recognise. Everyone I have met since I came to the BBC four months ago wants to improve diversity and inclusion and recognises that the business case for it is overwhelming.

Of course more can be done at the BBC, and across the whole broadcasting industry, and we want to hear ideas to help us make things better. However, it’s important to acknowledge what we have done, and are doing, to ensure that our people and the programmes they make fully represent all our audiences.

It’s also vital that we look at diversity in its widest sense. It’s not just about ethnicity, but also disability, sexuality, gender, age and social class, which are often intertwined with each other to create barriers. In fact diversity includes everyone.

So let’s look at the facts.

On air, BBC One is the UK’s most popular channel with all ethnic minority audiences. It’s followed in second place by BBC Two.

The TV listings over the last week tell their own story. As a snapshot, the biggest and most popular shows on BBC One, The Great British Bake Off, Strictly Come Dancing, Casualty and EastEnders proudly feature people from a wide range of backgrounds. And the announcement that a new transgender character played by a trans actor is coming to Albert Square is another positive step. In comedy, Boy Meets Girl, featuring a transgender actress in the lead role, aired on BBC Two while Romesh Ranganathan starred in BBC Three’s Asian Provocateur. Recent factual seasons on race, disability and India have been fascinating and there’s one on gender to come.

The number of female presenters on local radio breakfast shows has increased from 15% to 51% as a result of the Women in Local Radio initiative.

In addition, the BBC Academy’s Expert Women Programme has trained 164 women at events across the UK resulting in 374 media appearances and which became the model for the BAME Expert Voices programme that aims to achieve the same success in increasing on air representation for specialists from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Off air, the proportion of staff from ethnic minority backgrounds or with disabilities at the BBC is well above the industry average and rising. We now have a higher proportion of ethnic minority staff than ever before and, contrary to reports, more people from ethnic minorities are joining the BBC than leaving. Indeed the Business in Community campaigns on gender and race and diversity inclusion named the BBC as one of the top ten public sector organisations.

Partnerships with Mama Youth Project and the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust are up and running to provide training and work experience to young people from ethnic minority backgrounds, and the award-winning Extend scheme for disabled people has provided more than 500 placements in its 14 year history.
Our Local Apprenticeship scheme was recently shortlisted twice in the European Diversity Awards and just yesterday the BBC featured among the Sunday Telegraph’s list of top employers for apprentices. Last year, we opened our doors to young people from the widest range of backgrounds with over 350 trainees and apprentices starting their media careers with us.

Schemes to boost the number of mid-level ethnic minority and disabled staff in the leadership pipeline are helping talented people reach their potential.

At a senior level we’ve recruited six talented leaders from ethnic minority backgrounds for the ‘Senior Leadership Development Programme’ who are now getting experience right at the very top of the BBC alongside Tony Hall and other senior leaders. Six people from ethnic minority backgrounds are embedded across BBC Television as part of Assistant Commissioner Development Programme.

To address challenges around portrayal of ethnic minorities in our programmes we set up a £2.1m Diversity Creative Talent Fund. Money has been allocated across all genres and areas of Television to support emerging writers, talent and producers, from in-house and independent producers develop ideas. A third has been spent in drama, which has enabled the genre to invest and explore the development of 13 scripts and work with 10 new BAME writers. A number of projects funded by the scheme have made it to air. As we continue into the second year of the Fund, we’ll continue to focus on improving portrayal of ethnic minorities but with a greater emphasis on disability, gender, age and LGBT representation.

My job is to lead a new team bringing together everything we do around diversity and inclusion on and off air to maximise its impact, co-ordinate our contribution to important industrywide diversity projects and make sure everyone at the BBC sees diversity and inclusion as a fundamental part of their work.

As a result of an incredible amount of dedication and hard work across the BBC we are in a much better place than we were just a year ago. We now have a platform to enable us to do even better. Later this year we’ll be launching an ambitious new diversity strategy that will take our approach to another level and introducing new diversity guidelines for our productions in 2016.

We have achieved a lot over the last year but recognise we still have a great deal to do and with the help of everyone at the BBC I'm excited about the challenge ahead.

Tunde Ogungbesan is Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Succession

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