BBC sets target to recruit more working class employees

Anita Singh
·4 min read
BBC - Ben Stansall/AP
BBC - Ben Stansall/AP

The BBC is to set targets for the proportion of working class employees within its ranks, following accusations that the broadcaster lacks diversity of thought.

As part of this year’s workplace census, employees are being asked to declare whether they attended private school, if they were eligible for free school meals, and what their parents did for a living.

The results will be used to set a “meaningful target” designed to get more working class people into the corporation, the first time that socio-economic quotas have been set.

The BBC's critics accuse it of drawing staff from too narrow a pool, creating an organisation with a mindset that fails to reflect the views of millions of voters.

One working class radio presenter who arrived at the BBC after doing jobs in “the real world” told management that the corporation seemed “like a gated community for the privileged”.

The class target is part of a raft of measures included in the BBC’s new Diversity and Inclusion plan.

BBC's Diversity and Inclusion plan
BBC's Diversity and Inclusion plan

In another first, the BBC will begin counting the number of non-binary people it employs.

And it will arm staff with an “inclusion toolkit” of resources “to tackle non-inclusive behaviours”. They will be taught “how to embed inclusivity into our day-to-day work and management practices, including a framework for anti-racism.”

At least 95 per cent of staff will have completed mandatory unconscious bias training by January 2022, the BBC said.

The corporation aims to become “the industry gold standard for workplace diversity and inclusion”. Tim Davie, the director-general (pictured below), has stated that within five years the BBC workforce must be 50 per cent women, at least 20 per cent BAME and at least 12 per cent disabled employees.

Tim Davie, new Director General of the BBC - PA
Tim Davie, new Director General of the BBC - PA

The socio-economic targets will be announced in July, once the data has been collected.

Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, warned the BBC last year that it needed to broaden its outlook.

He said: “By this, I don’t just mean getting authentic and diverse voices on and off screen, although this is important, but also making sure there is genuine diversity of thought and experience.”

Mr Davie has stated that the BBC will employ fewer people with private school educations and Oxbridge degrees.

The BBC has attempted to measure socio-economic background before but only 58 per cent of staff chose to respond. “Through our 2021 census we want to boost declarations to 80 per cent and use that data to set a meaningful target,” the corporation said.

Figures contained in the BBC’s most recent annual report showed that - of those who responded - 61 per cent came from a family where the main breadwinner was a professional or senior manager, compared to just 26 per cent with the highest-earning parent in a routine or manual job.

The questions about background asked in the new survey were devised by the Social Mobility Commission.

The BBC has not outlined precisely how it will use the data into targets. But it plans to “radically overhaul” recruitment practices and expand an outreach programme to attract candidates from communities that are under-represented in the BBC’s workforce.

The Diversity and Inclusion plan features the thoughts of Mike Sweeney, a veteran DJ on BBC Radio Manchester (below).

Mike sweeney
Mike sweeney

“I’m from an impoverished, northern, working class, Irish Catholic background. I left school in 1962 with no qualifications and worked in the ‘real world’ as an engineering fitter, coal miner, docker, van driver,” said Sweeney, who also sang in punk band The Salford Jets.

He spent 33 years in commercial radio before joining the BBC seven years ago. “In the commercial radio world, my background was a huge positive. But I feel that the BBC can seem like a gated community for the privileged.

“I firmly believe that at this time you’ll rarely hear or see anyone like me on BBC TV or network radio. This has to change,” Sweeney said.

Elsewhere in the plan, the BBC said it would increase the number of apprenticeship places in an effort to hire from more diverse communities.

It will also expand the pool of senior leaders from diverse backgrounds. However, the corporation has been criticised for removing the only BAME executive on its news board, Kamal Ahmed, in a purge earlier this month.

The BBC missed its gender and BAME targets for senior leaders last year. It hit the disability target and exceeded the LGBTQ+ target.