‘They think there is a silver bullet’: UK publishers are hiring diversity execs

Last week, The Financial Times appointed its first head of diversity and inclusion, Priscilla Baffour, tasked with improving the gender pay gap and help attract and nurture a diverse workforce. Last November, The Telegraph hired its first head of diversity, inclusion and belonging, Asif Sadiq, formerly from consulting firm E&Y.

Championing diversity isn’t new in media, broadcasters have adapted quicker than news or print publishers, hiring those that reflect their audiences. Sky is third in the list of top-50 U.K. employers for diversity and inclusion. BBC, Channel 4, ITN and ITV have run various initiatives to improve diversity.

“Broadcasters have been under pressure for longer, their audience bases are more diverse, and so bigger steps have been taken,” said Dr. Karen Correia da Silva, associate director social science at behavioral analysis firm Canvas8. “In print, with more niche audiences, there’s definitely more work to be done.”

Most publishers have stated their commitment to improving diversity in the workplace, particularly after legal requirements meant they had to publish the difference in what organizations were paying men and women in April 2018. Elements of this role and diversity initiatives are often bundled into human resources departments, not appointing a specific role doesn’t mean publishers aren’t trying to make changes. But diversity roles specifically are evolving.

“The inclusiveness is key,” said Rachel Gascoigne, leadership consultant at Wickland Westcott. Gascoigne added in previous years the role was more often called diversity and equality. “There’s only so much you can do to increase diversity in the short term, but there’s much more to increase the sense belonging in daily decision-making.” She points to decisions like not scheduling meetings at 5.30 p.m., for instance, to not alienate staff childcare commitments. “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusiveness is being asked to dance.”

Gascoigne, who runs diversity and inclusion workshops, points to three elements companies look at to drive a more diverse workforce: the people who are recruited, the people who are promoted and inclusive decision-making. “The key interest [from organizations] is in hearing what other companies have done. Organizations think there is a silver bullet; they think they’re missing something,” she added.

A lot of initiatives in driving diversity are often unsung. There’s a nervousness among companies about getting this wrong, and some are wary of coming across as tokenistic, which makes growing awareness more difficult. Widening contact pools and diverse interview panels are becoming more common, internal council groups can be effective if they don’t segregate those they’re trying to include. Equally, products are more often marketed to specific groups: The Economist and The Financial Times have aimed at women in recent marketing campaigns and editorial products. Lip balm brand Burt’s Bees released rainbow-colored products to celebrate Pride.

Gascoigne has run four workshops with six organizations attending each since last summer. They’re oversubscribed because it’s a topic that’s moving up the agenda for organizations, but also because diversity and inclusion get deprioritized when client deadlines loom, so attendees drop out.

But the amount of research into how diversity impacts the bottom line is stacking up. Research from McKinsey, which looked at over 1,000 global companies, their revenues and the makeup of the workforce, found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability. For ethnic and cultural diversity, more diverse companies had a 33 percent likelihood of outperformance. Companies in the bottom quartile for gender and ethnicity diversity weren’t just not leading; they were lagging behind.

In the U.K., McKinsey found that greater gender diversity on the senior-executive team corresponded to the highest performance uplift: For every 10 percent increase in gender diversity, earnings before interest and taxes rose by 3.5 percent. Often there’s a causal correlation between diversity and profitability rather than direct results, and factors like attracting and retaining top talent as well as better understanding customers are two ways diversity helps to fuel return.

Having senior leadership buy-in is the ingredient for successful diversity initiatives, a long-term view is needed to make a cultural shift. “These decisions need to come from the top,” said Daren Rubins, founder of media recruitment company Conker. “In every brief, we discuss with clients, there’s a conversation about diversity and inclusion. I would like to see diversity and inclusion roles disappear; it’s everyone’s responsibility. But we’re not there yet.”

Specifically, the FT’s move to increase diversity means it will be able to boast more internationally relevant and innovative voices, though it shouldn’t stop there, said de Silva. “Diversity on the FT’s board would be the next hurdle. People want to see authentic diversity from businesses, not just surface-level engagement with the issue.”


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