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Improving socio-economic diversity at the BBC

Alan Davey

Controller, BBC Radio 3

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The BBC exists to represent the whole of the UK. Because we are funded by everyone via the licence fee we must make programmes that educate, entertain and inform all our audiences.

This means whatever your interest in music, be it classical, pop or folk; whatever you taste in television, be it drama, documentary or entertainment; and whatever you enjoy reading about online, be it news, sport or simply the weather we need to make sure we’re making programmes and content that reflect your interests.

But in order to do this it is important that we draw our staff from across the UK and from a wide range of backgrounds. Not least because there is a real danger that if we only employ staff from a narrow section of society we miss out on a huge range of creative ideas and creative thinking.

Put simply if we’re not getting the electric charge of creativity from people with a variety of different experiences in life, we will not be doing as well as we can do in delivering great things for audiences who pay the licence fee.

This is deeply important to me personally because of my own experience. I grew up in Stockton-on-Tees and as a teenager developed a real passion for classical music. I discovered it through Woolworths and the BBC and have benefited personally ever since.

I am also someone who was told when growing up by a person in authority that the ‘Arts’ were not for the likes of me because of my background – a boy with working class parents. I’d be expected to do something else.

Well, thanks to enlightened encouragement and luck I didn’t and I’m doing a job that is about bringing the greatest music and culture – including Classical Music – to as broad an audience as possible – one of the core aims of the BBC. So when I was asked to sponsor this review of career progression and culture at the BBC by Tony Hall I felt strongly that this was important for the organisation and our future.

As part of the review we asked The Social Mobility Foundation to work with us and examine the data that the BBC has already collected on social economic background of its staff.

They found some positive steps (particularly around our efforts to open up the BBC to a wide range of applicants at entry level and the recent work we’ve done with trainees and apprenticeships) however they also felt that our existing workforce wasn’t as diverse as it could be and we weren’t doing enough to help progression amongst staff from lower socio-economic backgrounds once they were at the BBC.

We also spoke to our staff to understand their thoughts. We heard from people up and down the UK who worked in a wide variety of roles. This was important because it gave us a better understanding of how we could improve and change cultural factors that might not be apparent from merely studying the data we’d collected.

We then looked at what we could do to improve things. For example we think that the BBC should offer at least 70% of places on apprenticeships, traineeships, internships and work experience for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. We will also support BBC Recruitment in their review of process and procedures with a focus on inclusive hiring to include socio-economic diversity measures in their work.

Internally we’ll be running an in-depth review of all the BBC’s divisions with low socio-economic diversity and introduce 12-month action plans in these areas. As well as ensuring that inclusive culture training is rolled out to team managers across the organisation. We’re also announcing a number of other changes which you can read about in the review itself.

Changing the culture will take time but it is clear the will is there at the top of the organisation and there is an enthusiasm across it for us to lead the way and make a difference. In the end this is a hard-nosed choice: it will ensure we are a better and more creative organisation, better able to reflect all the talents and interests of the population of this diverse country in which we live.

We’ll make better stuff for audiences and tell stories in a more authentic way – whether that is drama or the delivery of news. That’s what the BBC is all about.

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