BBC TV’s diversity blooper: it still employs fewer women than rivals

BBC television has a significantly lower proportion of female staff than its main rivals, despite the corporation’s stated commitment to gender equality, according to an Ofcom study.

Only 44 per cent of employees in the BBC’s television department are women, compared with 56 per cent at Channel 4, 53 per cent at ITV and 52 per cent at Channel 5’s parent company, Viacom CBS.

The BBC also ranks lowest against its three rivals when it comes to women in senior management roles. The only British broadcaster to have a worse record of gender parity is Sky. 

The figures were contained in Ofcom’s five-year review of diversity and equal opportunities in broadcasting.

Ofcom noted that, for the first time, the number of people leaving the television and radio industries exceeded the number joining it – with women making up a disproportionately high number of leavers.

“Potential reasons for this exodus include the Covid pandemic and its disproportionate effect on certain groups, such as working mothers,” the report said.

It pointed to research carried out recently by the University of Nottingham, which showed that women had faced the brunt of childcare issues and homeschooling during the pandemic.

When it comes to radio, the BBC fares better: its workforce is 51 per cent female, putting it on a par with commercial rival Global (whose stations include Classic FM and LBC) and three per cent below Bauer (Absolute, Magic and Jazz FM).

But the figures for television will prove embarrassing for Tim Davie, the BBC director-general, who made gender parity one of the central themes of his tenure when he took over a year ago.

Director-general Tim Davie made gender parity one of the central themes of his tenure when he took over a year ago

Mr Davie has also urged other companies to take on the BBC’s “50:50 Challenge” to have an equal gender split of contributors to television programmes.

Across broadcasting, older women are poorly represented in the workplace: only 16 per cent of women in the TV workforce are aged 50 and over compared with 22 per cent of men.

We recognise there is more to do, says BBC

The report said: “This is unsurprising given that broadcasters’ reporting to Ofcom contains little reference to support for people in older age groups. In fact, nearly all initiatives that focused on specific age groups actually focused on young people.

“Broadcasters must re-examine their policies urgently to ensure they support their older employees, especially those aged 50+. In particular, more needs to be done to improve representation for women aged 50+.”

In response, the BBC said the proportion of women across the corporation as a whole was higher than the figure for television.

It said: “The BBC is committed to representing all audiences both on and off screen  Our latest published data shows women make up 48.6 per cent of all staff.

“We have made big improvements, but we recognise there is more to do.”

Ofcom’s report brings together five years’ worth of data on diversity in the broadcasting sector.

One area explored in the research was religion. Only 29 per cent of those employed by the main TV broadcasters consider themselves religious, with 34 per cent in radio, set against the UK benchmark of 48 per cent.

The industry is more representative of the UK in terms of ethnicity than it was five years ago, the regulator said. However, there is “a woeful lack of diversity within senior positions and key decision makers”.

Projections suggest that the proportion of TV employees who are disabled will fall over the next five years, and disabled people are less likely to be promoted. The lack of progress in achieving change “has been particularly true at a senior level”.

Ofcom recommended that broadcasters consider setting retention targets in addition to recruitment targets. It also called for broadcasters to collect more data on the socio-economic background of staff.

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