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Moving from words to action: #BlackLivesMatter

Pact's Head of Inclusion and Diversity, Anjani Patel

Following the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis two weeks ago, statements of solidarity have flooded the internet. The Black Lives Matter protests have spread across the world.  Social media is ablaze with anger, rhetoric and black box statements.

In the UK, this has come at a time when the Covid pandemic has also exposed the health inequalities affecting the BAME community.

Many broadcasters, studios and production companies have posted messages and written to their staff to declare their alignment with the cause.

Showing solidarity is important, but as a sector that has the power to shape narratives, to influence, inspire and to spark change, we have a greater responsibility.

We are well versed in the barriers in our sector, the things that arguably hold us back from creating more diverse teams, inclusive workplaces and authentic representation. A freelance workforce, the high cost of living in London, the challenge of connecting with hard-to-reach communities, a shortage of experienced talent: to some extent all of this is true. Yet not all production companies respond in the same way to these barriers. In my experience, those that drive their inclusion strategy from the top are the most successful, not only in creating more diverse teams and authenticity on screen but also in embedding more inclusive cultures. I believe that these are the places where talent and ideas thrive.

So how can production businesses genuinely move beyond the rhetoric, beyond the black square messages of support, to take considered and sustained action? To tackle all forms of prejudice and the lack of diversity within their organisations, and make a lasting impact on their company culture?

Here are some of the practical things that all TV and film businesses can do to make a start:

1.    Ensure Leadership buy in.

-    Your inclusion strategy has to be driven from the top
-    Communicate your commitment to staff and external stakeholders
-    Walk the walk

2.    Set strategic targets for all senior staff, HoDs and suppliers, and hold them accountable.

-    Ensure talent managers provide mixed shortlists
-    Communicate your strategy to HoDs
-    Make on-screen inclusion ‘business as usual’

3.    Build an inclusive culture and commit to professional values which support all employees, of all backgrounds, genders, ethnicity, and sexuality.

-    Invite and value input from all
-    Form two-way communication between leaders and employees
-    Be comfortable being uncomfortable to create an environment which supports, promotes and hears all voices

4.    Open your closed networks.

-    Have an open door for talent from underrepresented groups
-    Expand the circle of people you sponsor and mentor
-    Interview production talent during downtime

5.     Formalise recruitment practices to tackle bias.

-    Advertise vacancies
-    Never interview alone
-    Consider the whole team, don’t make individual hires

At Pact, we work with production companies to help them to shift the balance, to create more inclusive cultures and write strategies which embed inclusive working practises in their businesses.

2019 Pact Indie Diversity Scheme participants, London

We do this through one-to-one sessions, workshops and webinars with inclusion consultants and experts. We will soon be launching an online Inclusion Accelerator tool, designed to help Pact members create a strategy and action plans to make all aspects of their businesses and productions more inclusive. A range of existing resources and information can also be found on the Pact Diversity microsite.

We also run the Pact Indie Diversity Scheme, in both London and Scotland. Entry-level trainees undertake a six-month placement with an independent production company, are partnered with a mentor, and receive bespoke training. To date, over 80 trainees – many of whom are BAME – have graduated from our Scheme.  The participation of our indie partners is crucial in making that happen and whilst we have had to postpone this year’s Scheme, we are launching an initiative to support  our alumni during the pandemic, with mentoring, training and pastoral care.  I’m keen to hear from companies who are interested in getting involved.

Significant and lasting cultural change doesn’t happen overnight. But if each individual and organisation uses this moment to reflect, to ask the hard questions, and commit to doing things differently, then we have a chance of moving beyond words to achieving something we all want to see: an industry that truly reflects the modern and diverse society we live in.

If you would like to find out more about any of Pact’s diversity and inclusion work and how we can support your business, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

Anjani Patel
Head of Inclusion and Diversity