In a world more connected than ever before — with global networking sites, bustling jobs boards and numerous networking opportunities — it would be logical to assume that everyone has a fair chance at getting their foot in the door. Surely as long as you work hard, put yourself out there and gain the relevant experience, you will be able to land your dream job and climb the career ladder.
Unfortunately, even in 2019, this still isn’t the case for a lot of industries, where senior positions are primarily held by people from certain ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic groups. For example, statistics from Diversity UK reveal that whilst ethnic minorities make up 12% of the working-age population, they only account for 1 in 15 management positions. Gender disparity also continues to exist, with only 26.25% of senior boardroom positions in the UK occupied by women.
The TV industry is no exception. Despite often being lauded as a more welcoming place than the corporate sectors, TV remains one of the most difficult industries to break into — especially for those from disadvantaged or diverse backgrounds. Ofcom reports that disabled people are especially underrepresented in TV, with only 6% of workers identifying as disabled compared with the UK average of 18%. Minority ethnic representation at senior level is also poor, at just 13%. An institutionalised problem with employing those from more privileged economic backgrounds is also rampant in the TV industry, but worryingly no study has yet clarified the extent of this issue.
But why is this? One reason is unconscious bias, which ECU defines as when a person’s background and experiences, as well as societal stereotypes they have been exposed to, impact the everyday decisions that they make. In the workplace, this means that managers are therefore more likely to employ candidates from similar backgrounds to themselves: with similar accents, personality traits and even outwards appearance. This doesn’t stop at recruitment level either, with lower wages and fewer opportunities for progression also consequences of unconscious bias that continue into the workplace. With most senior positions in the UK TV industry held by white men over 50, it’s clear that unconscious bias is an institutionalised issue, and the issue of people recruiting their own reflections, needs to stop. This is where www.thetalentmanager.com comes in. When I launched the TM five years ago the aim was simple: to help professionalise how producers go about finding, and working with, the best freelance production talent, and to make it easier for that talent to build their creative networks and find great career opportunities.
And it’s worked. The Talent Manager is now main networking and recruitment platform for the TV industry. It is used by all the main broadcasters and more than 2000 Indies to find – and keep track of – the best production people, saving them huge amounts of time and money and enabling them to spend their energies thinking more creatively about the teams they put together and the production itself. For freelancers – we have over 80,000 registered – it provides a free ‘one-stop-shop’ for them to network with all the leading producers in the UK as well as their peers.
Having shown that our vision for the TM worked – and has become an invaluable tool – we have continued to innovate in response to industry need.
Last year we launched a ‘’Diversity Search Engine’’, which makes it easier for Indies to find the best relevant production talent from BAME backgrounds or with disabilities, and a ‘’Diversity Dashboard’’. The Dashboard is particularly important — it allows companies to view and monitor their private networks of freelancers by the nine protected characteristics: gender, sexuality, ethnicity, disability, religion and more, as well as social background. By having detailed (anonymised) data like this, broken down by job categories, it enables and encourages companies to think proactively about how they can improve the diversity of their teams going forward. Our view is that most producers want to address the under-representation in the industry but hitherto have lacked the tools to help them do so.
Now we want to raise awareness about unconscious bias, with the aim of reducing its influence during the recruitment process. In February, we launched our new unconscious bias control tool, which allows companies to hide each freelancer’s picture whilst viewing their profile — thus eliminating the possibility of unconscious bias based on ethnicity, gender, and other visible protected characteristics. First to pilot the scheme are ITV’s Comedy 50:50 initiative: a campaign designed to tackle the gender imbalance in comedy writing. Over 30 companies have access to their all-female network, but are given no indication of what each person looks like. Companies making use of our feature can also go one step further, removing the candidate’s name, allowing judgements and decisions to be made solely on skill and experience.
TV also has its own Achilles Heel when it comes to employing diversity.
The very nature of our work means that recruitment is often conducted in an informal manner — and this needs to change. As a rapid, fast-paced industry that often relies on short-term, immediate employment, most production companies resort to contacting the same people over and over again — using call sheets, personal contacts and even secret, hidden Facebook groups. Whilst many of these companies may have good intentions, these secret groups often require new members to be connected with at least 10 other members, making them become a sort of digital old boys’ club, which is disappointing to see especially when major broadcasters with diversity schemes in place continue to make use of them. This, along with the amount of unpaid/minimum wage opportunities which are sadly still rife — is an impassable obstacle for those from less privileged backgrounds.
Connections are at the heart of what we do here as a recruitment and networking site, and I want them to remain important, but I strongly believe that anyone and everyone should be able to make them. My vision for www.thetalentmanager.com is that it will allow people to make connections organically regardless of those they have been exposed to before entering the industry. There is a lot of hot air in TV: too much talk and not enough action. The right time to act is now.