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March 19, 2024

‘Diversity still not a priority in practice’ in news industry, survey finds

Management and junior staff have differing views on the barriers to diverse newsrooms.

By Bron Maher

Diversity and inclusion are “still not a priority in practice” in the news industry, a survey of news organisation workers has suggested.

More than half of the 450 individuals who responded to the December survey told the consulting arm of the Financial Times, FT Strategies, that diversity and inclusion were ostensibly strategic priorities for their organisation.

But only 18% of respondents at large news organisations said building a diverse workplace was among their company’s top three priorities.

The survey results provide a window into what steps news organisations have actually taken to improve representation and inclusion since the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests shone an unfavourable light on UK media diversity.

What diversity and inclusion initiatives are in action in the news industry?

The survey report, titled Diversity Inside Media Organisations, said there are “commercial upsides” to diversity and inclusivity, citing Harvard Business Review and Boston Consulting Group studies that suggested an organisation is more likely to outperform competitors and draw higher revenue with a more diverse workforce.

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The survey was sent out to individuals in FT Strategies’ client base, but it is unclear how representative of the wider industry the sample was.

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The most common diversity and inclusion initiatives respondents reported seeing at their organisation involved officially incorporating diversity into company policies (seen by 46% of male respondents, 48% of female respondents), unconscious bias training (38% and 50%) and writing job adverts to appeal to a wider range of candidates (43% and 44%).

Less frequent were initiatives such as inclusive language guides (seen by 15% of men and 23% of women), publishing a gender pay gap report (13% and 24%) and blind application reviews (11% and 9%). Just over a third (35%) of respondents to the survey said their news organisation did not have any diversity goals at all.

Across all respondents, the most commonly-cited barrier to improving diversity was “attracting diverse talent”, which was identified as an issue by 53% of respondents.

A similar proportion, 52%, cited resource constraints at their organisation, and 41% difficulties with retaining diverse talent. Less common reasons included a lack of commitment from leadership (31%) and a lack of clear direction (39%).

However, junior staff surveyed by FT Strategies emphasised different barriers. Whereas 58% of mid-level staff and 53% of senior staff said that attracting diverse talent was a barrier to improving diversity, only 41% of junior staff said bringing diverse staff in was an issue.

Instead junior staff were the most likely group, at 50%, to cite retention of diverse staff as a problem. By comparison 44% of mid-level staff and 37% of senior staff identified retention as an issue.

Junior staff were also more likely to highlight a perceived lack of direction (50%) or commitment (53%) as a problem. Some 29% of senior staff saw a lack of clear direction as an issue and 22% a lack of commitment.

Generally speaking, the more senior the role of the survey respondent at their news organisation, the less likely they were to report understanding why D&I initiatives should be a priority.

Asked to rate their agreement with the statement “I understand why my organisation is prioritising a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion” from one to five, media business owners gave an average response of 1.5. Director or VP-level staff averaged 2.2 and C-suite roles 2.3.

In contrast, analyst or associate level staff averaged 3.2 out of five, interns or trainees three and managers 2.5. The only exception to the trend were entry level staff, who averaged 2.4 - possibly reflecting their greenness at their organisation.

Asked to score how motivated they personally felt to improve diversity at their publication out of ten, 33% of respondents gave an answer indicating they wanted to promote D&I. Another 40% gave answers that FT Strategies described as “passive” on improving diversity and 27% were “detractors”.

Digital natives beating legacy publications at diversity priorities

The report said: "Diversity is no longer an afterthought and the attention to it is significant. More than half the respondents had diversity goals in their organisation, many of those were able to articulate them and over half agreed D&I is a strategic priority.

"So what’s the catch? Diversity is still not a priority in practice. When ranked against commercial priorities, building a diverse workforce was the last out of seven possible answers and building a diverse audience was fourth; many feel they don’t have the resources to improve it.

"However, digital natives and social media prioritise internal and external diversity more than legacy publications."

Last month former Guardian editor-at-large Gary Younge gave a lecture at City University in which he argued that the narrow range of backgrounds from which many UK journalists are drawn has undermined the profession.

Citing the news industry's late arrival to the Windrush scandal and widespread police abuse of black Americans, Younge said that whereas concerns around newsroom diversity are “usually filed under diversity and passed on to HR”, they “could and should just as rightly be filed under journalism and passed on to editorial”.

[Read more: ‘Internal memos of the upper class’ - Gary Younge says journalism is out of touch]

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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  • COO
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  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
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  • Head of Department/Function
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  • Retired
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