Diversity: Taking a holistic approach

Deborah Williams

In her monthly column, the Creative Diversity Network (CDN)’s executive director Deborah Williams reflects on how Covid is affecting diversity and inclusivity across the industry.

Last year ended in a way that few anticipated or hoped for. Going into another open- ended lockdown here in the UK – at a time when the industry was hoping to continue opening up – was shocking and felt like a deep blow.

In my view, the fallout from this was diversity – in some sections of our industry – becoming even more of an afterthought than has been apparent through our Diamond annual reports, the latest of which we released in January.

We had been spending nine months trying to make sure it stayed on people’s agendas, and that it was embedded strategically in everyone’s working practices, rather than just as a knee-jerk reaction to Black Lives Matter or the latest conversations around gender – whether that was disparity and pay gaps or the changing of identities.

If some people, because of their background or characteristics, can’t choose how they work, where they work and when they work, then we do not have an inclusive industry

The public debate around the way that under- represented groups had been impacted during Covid became a real media issue, highlighting inequalities that have been embedded for centuries. Some people in the industry were realising this for the first time, which was useful. Those of us that work in this space on a day-to- day basis are aware that these inequalities have always been hidden in plain sight – either ignored or unseen.

That sense of togetherness from last year came, to a large extent, from people who don’t work in this area or who struggle with the idea of diversity as a business imperative. So what I am about to say will take some adjusting to: there needs to be a different way of approaching diversity. I’m going to call it taking a holistic approach, and it will be my mission for the year in my role as leader of the Creative Diversity Network.

Choice & inertia

This holistic approach involves developing a model that includes as many voices as possible, as many characteristics, and as much understanding of diversity as possible. We need to think about the economic impact of Covid on our freelancers and entire supply chains. Not just in theoretical or academic terms such as socio-economic status or how people identify with different groups, but what it actually means in the real world: for example, the ability to choose to travel from one part of the country – or world – to another in order to work.

Using Diamond, we already publish the most accurate reflection of any workforce in the world, but we can look harder and see more. Last month we published Diamond: The 4th Cut, which again held a mirror up to the industry, showing that in amongst the gains, the commitments and the general atmosphere of forward momentum, there is back sliding, and worse, there are areas of complete inertia.

This year needs to be about turning up the speed dial on the treadmill. We need to keep up the pressure on ourselves and each other to ensure that we are accountable

For me, it’s about choice. If some people, because of their background or characteristics, can’t choose how they work, where they work and when they work, then we do not have an inclusive industry.

We continue working from home, with different work patterns becoming more acceptable and still creating, producing and delivering great TV content – some of which will no doubt be on show to international buyers at The London Screenings. This demonstrates that there is an opportunity to use these new ways of working to increase choice and therefore build inclusivity and diversity in the industry. We can see that the artificial barriers to working which in the past have led to people being rejected because of a location or access requirements can be removed, if we want them to be.

For CDN, keeping diversity on the agenda means keeping it on the agenda at every development session, every pitching meeting, every commissioning meeting and every casting and crewing up decision. And every festival or awards celebrating the best of our industry. On that last point, as we enter this year’s cycle of awards, I was pleased to see more recognition of female writers and directors at the Golden Globes nominations, but it was very monocultural. I’m intrigued to see what the other awards do and if the Globes are going with or against the tide.

Fundamentally, this year needs to be about turning up the speed dial on the treadmill. We need to keep up the pressure on ourselves and each other to ensure that we are accountable, removing any ambiguity about diversity being critical to the future of our industry.

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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