Posted by Laura Harrison on , last updated
The BBC values have diversity at the core - from audiences that we represent, to on-screen talent and of course, our staff. When looking specifically at diversity in R&D, we’re taking extra steps related to our engagement with the wider tech industry in order to move the dial. As we know, the technology sector traditionally (and currently) does not have great gender representation; women are significantly under-represented, so we’re starting there. We are committed to improving the gender disparity within BBC R&D and by doing so, influence the industry around us.
Over the last few years, the department has been making important steps towards change, be it through seeking a diversity of skills in graduate recruitment and industrial placement opportunities, or challenging behaviour at conferences where we are showcasing our work. However, nine months ago, the department formed a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) working group to prioritise areas that can make the most impact on our objective. Some of these include the importance of gender-neutral language, giving women a clear platform to be heard and having more visible female role models, as well as some practical processes like ensuring all recruitment interviews have a mixed-gender panel.
Beyond the pan-BBC initiatives that are in place to create a diverse workforce, the R&D D&I team has been identifying markers in the process that reflect key decision points when someone joins (or is considering joining) the department - from attraction and recruitment through to retention and progression. When we’re looking for future R&Ders, how can we ensure that we create and present an inclusive environment that nurtures diversity; diversity of demographic, of background and of mind?
Our changing industry inevitably reflects the skills now needed in an ever-evolving R&D department set on inventing the future of media and data services with new ways and new formats of digital storytelling. We’re no longer pure research engineering; we’re a multiskilled department of designers, data scientists, product managers, research psychologists and much more. In the tech space, roles are emerging that were not even invented five years ago, a new horizon of unique positions up for grabs, by anyone, not something that is ruled by experience, nor is it swamped by traditional gender stereotypes. New opportunities are arising with new tech trends, the VR space was a good example of this during the early stages of it emerging to the consumer. Teams are thriving when they embrace diverse perspectives.
As R&D is mandated to disseminate its research to the industry by the royal charter, we are often speaking at a variety of events including academic workshops and industry conferences. This is, therefore, one of the areas where we could have the most influence in promoting diversity in a public forum. We’ve created a policy for R&D’s approach to public speaking. This proposal focuses on how to promote diversity in the kinds of public forums that we already use to discuss and publicise our work with partners, academia and industry. But we hope that R&D staff will also be encouraged to find opportunities to speak to more diverse audiences too - both as a way of broadening our horizons and finding new and more varied partners and of increasing the department’s profile among more diverse groups. We believe this is a practical way forward that not only enables R&D to support and encourage more diverse public discussions in the industry but may serve as an example for other organisations also attempting to address these issues. We want to make a difference in our circle of influence, pushing boundaries and standards where possible for the better.
The policy document is a living flexible plan too, once we put this into action, we want to learn from how it is received and where perhaps it doesn’t quite fit or needs adjusting, so we’ll be reviewing the policy on a regular basis.
"This document [is] a statement of how we are going to address this issue practically. It sets out what we expect from ourselves and our colleagues in this area as we try and find pragmatic ways to address the problems that are limiting our diversity."
We aim to help change the way in which people and their work are presented to the tech industry; this won’t happen with policy alone. We know that we have to champion the work that we do and bring people with us on our journey for change. Alongside the policy, we hope to challenge how speaker panels are put together - starting with the skill-set and expertise rather than the person. We want to offer alternatives beyond the norm, this sometimes means not having the most senior person present a body of work as those represented at the top currently, are less diverse. This also means supporting and growing a new diverse network of potential speakers within our industry to help others target beyond who they know but also to avoid the scenario where a small group of women become the go-to people, thus taking them away from the work that we’re trying to expand on.
We believe the policy is a practical way forward that not only enables R&D to support and encourage more diverse public discussions in the industry, but may also serve as an example for other organisations also attempting to address these issues.
We want to change the way people think about the curation of events and conferences in the tech industry so that different perspectives are sought and not excluded. Most of the change we hope to make is behavioural and cultural and heavily webbed together. This isn’t an easy journey by any means, but if we all make small changes, big things will come.