Diversity: Nurturing conversation around representation

In the second instalment of her new monthly column, the Creative Diversity Network’s executive director Deborah Williams explains why every conversation matters in the discussion around representation.

Diversity is a strange place to be at the moment. The idea that your life’s work is suddenly in vogue is what you dream about. It’s like arriving at an airport and seeing your face on a poster in the terminal, at the same time everyone else does. It’s a brilliant feeling and fills one with hope about what is to come next.

Casting an eye over the new initiatives, projects and schemes that broadcasters are announcing – including large investments and burgeoning teams – has given me whiplash. So, this month I have been digesting and cogitating what it could all mean. How will we support each other and work together to water and raise the acorns planted over the past few years’ work?

Going to global marketplaces helps me do my work better and ensures we are able to set the bar as high as we can

Deborah Williams

For me, it has led to some amazing conversations, including speaking to Australian peers from a small, diverse and Indigenous-led organisation as well as the creator of The Everyone Project – modelled on Diamond, the world’s first and original online diversity data collection system for the UK television and broadcasting industry. It was worth getting up on many mornings to discourse with people around the world because they are determined, albeit with small budgets, but more importantly great ambition and big hearts. They have helped me to carry on.

It took me back to the days when I was working at the British Film Institute on a short-term contract and part-time hours, when elsewhere tokenism was prevalent around diversity. People would talk and say things and never follow through.

I spent what felt like forever discussing how to create something that would set a standard and make things easier, more apparent and more appropriate and really give the film industry an opportunity to celebrate the diversity of its content and its creators.

Four months later, as we got ready to announce the Diversity Standards, we had the golden ticket and the support of the industry, filling out the room as part of The London Film Festival, something I could never have believed. We were trending number one in the UK on Twitter. I remember the images of people waving their tickets for this session, with excitement. We had people sitting on the stairs; people knocking on the doors demanding to be let in with “don’t you know who I am?” rolling off their tongues. Diversity had arrived in film, and I know we are close to it finding its place in TV as well.

So let us go back to thinking globally. Soon we’ll have MIPCOM Online+, which I believe will provide an opportunity to create something exciting and a place for individuals who would normally never be able to attend Cannes to have access to others who can’t attend, as well as those who are normally hanging out on the Croisette.

If this is going to work we need to be confident – we need to keep having the small conversations, despite never knowing what might come of them

Deborah Williams

Spending time there over the last couple of years, as well as the Realscreen Summit at the beginning of this year, alongside other markets, I have seen the seeds planted by others start to grow and felt my part in that growth. Diversity as a concept is now in the room. It is staking its claim.

Going to these global marketplaces helps me do my work better and ensures we are able to set the bar as high as we can. It is why when somebody who’s from a small organisation asks me to speak or to be part of something I accept, because talk is cheap. If you are a massive institution with capacity and tentacles that reach beyond you, there is an expectation that you should be doing this and you should be leading – but don’t forget that from little acorns, great oaks grow.

I know this because I have experienced it very recently. Waking up several weeks ago, I saw the announcement from the Oscars of their inclusion and representation standards – I looked at them and thought, “Oh my God! That’s my work”. Those months, five years ago, when I wondered if any of this was going to mean anything, if it was going to make a difference, or if it was going to travel anywhere.

Was that time worth it? I could now categorically say yes!

Because the biggest institution in our screen industry, globally, has taken it on board, adopted it, adapted it and they’re going to use it. That’s what I call planting.

If this is going to work we need to be confident. We need to keep having the small conversations, despite never knowing what might come of them. Reach out and that will feed the need – and from the small acorns, great trees will grow.

Deborah is executive director at the UK’s Creative Diversity Network and has worked in arts, culture and the creative industries for more than three decades

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