Over the last few days, the BBC has come in for a lot of criticism for diversity statistics related to the gender pay gap of its top paid stars. Therefore, it comes as a surprise that the BBC has stayed silent over other diversity statistics that were published on the same day that – on the face of it – would imply the BBC is making very strong progress in promoting other forms of diversity in the organization.
The first is the rate of disability employment in the corporation. After years of hovering around 3.6% and 3.7%, this year it suddenly shot up to 10.2%. To be accurate here are the BBC disability employment statistics for the last five years:
2012 – 3.6%
2013 – 3.7%
2014 – 3.8%
2015 – 3.6%
2016 – 10.2%
To suddenly increase the disability proportion of your workforce by this extent, as far as I am aware, is unprecedented for any large company in the UK – maybe in the world.
Yet the BBC has decided not to trumpet this amazing achievement.
What is even more amazing is that it was able to achieve this amazing feat in just one year – the same year that in absolute terms, the number of disabled people that left the BBC actually exceeded the number of disabled people that joined the BBC. Specifically, 118 disabled people left the BBC while 94 joined the BBC last year.
True, the whole of the BBC workforce contracted last year and so you might just think that the non-disabled workforce decreased by a lot more than the disabled workforce – therefore increasing the percentage of disabled staff at the BBC. However, the proportion of disabled people leaving the BBC last year was roughly in line with the number of disabled people in the corporation generally – and so without going into all the maths of it that is definitely not the source of the big jump.
In fact we do not know the explanation of how more disabled people can leave than join and yet the BBC’s disability statistics jump from a measly 3.6% to a whopping 10.2% in a single year.
The BBC is remaining surprisingly quiet about it and has for some curious reason decided it would rather talk about its terrible gender pay gap figures rather than issue a single press release on what most companies and the public would regard as a good news story.
Then there is the curious case of the BBC’s BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) figures.
A day after Sir Lenny Henry was in Parliament chastising the BBC for its lack of diversity the corporation published that 14.5% of its workforce are BAME. That figure is higher than the percentage of BAME’s in the total UK population. Again, on the face of it this is an amazing feat. And yet again not a single press release on this obvious good news.
And the BBC’s extraordinary statistics did not stop there. The figure it published for BAME’s in its Network News division was 14.8%. Not only does this make the BBC possibly the most diverse newsroom in Europe but it is another amazing jump in a single year from 12.7%. Obviously, it doesn’t come close to the rise in disability stats but ask anybody who works in this area and it is mighty impressive. Strange then that the BBC does not want to publicise their great news.
Perhaps it’s because once you start to scratch the surface of the BAME figures they do not withstand much scrutiny. The overall figure of 14.5% is terribly skewed by the World Service Group which is responsible for specialist things like the Swahili Service, China Service, and BBC Persian Television. In fact, 54.2% of the World Service Group workforce is BAME. It is also skewed by two other divisions that have very little direct involvement with programme making: the “Director General’s Office Group” and “Worldwide” (the latter is responsible for sales).
Furthermore, with over half of BBC’s programmes being made by independent companies, who are not included in any of the official statistics, no one really knows what percentage of BBC programmes are made by people of colour. Although a telling study by Directors UK put the figure of BAME directors making prime time programmes across the industry at 1.5%
But for all the questioning of the validity of the BBC’s diversity figures what might the BBC seek to gain by publishing such progressive disability and BAME diversity figures and not wanting to make a song and dance about them, even while being criticized so heavily on its gender performance?
Well one theory is that 2017 is the first year that Ofcom – the media industry regulator – will be holding the BBC accountable for somehow meeting its “diversity” requirement under the new BBC Charter. Ofcom now has the power to issue targets around both disability and BAME employment, and issue penalties if it does not meet them.
The argument, some might even say conspiracy theory, is that BBC senior management may think that if they find a way to publish good diversity statistics from the outset, it will minimise the likelihood of Ofcom enforcing such measures and thereby minimise even more unwanted scrutiny in the future.
Anyone who has worked at or for the BBC recently knows that diversity is hard to deliver and any progress that is being made is slow – only one extra BAME person joined the corporation last year than left it, and you are still more likely to be promoted if you are white.
Used correctly statistics can be a great tool in aiding progress. Used incorrectly statistics can often hide more than they reveal.
Marcus Ryder is the Chief International Editor for CGTN Digital, China’s largest broadcaster and is based in Beijing. Before moving to China he worked at the BBC for 24 years and his last position was Head of Current Affairs at BBC Scotland. He is also the former Chair of the RTS Diversity Committee.