“People have the right to see their lives reflected” – Pat Younge on the practical aspects of diversity and inclusion in TV
Pat Younge has the sort of track record that makes people sit up and pay attention. Now the co-managing director of Cardiff Productions, he formerly ran TV production at BBC Studios, overseeing such blue-chip brands as Doctor Who and Top Gear, and was a president at Travel Channel Media when the hugely successful Man vs Food was launched. He has also spent time at Sky-backed Sugar Films and is a non-executive director of ITV Studios advising on strategy and business development.
He is also known for his insights into diversity and inclusion in the television industry. In an exclusive interview with K7 Media, he offers practical strategies and common-sense arguments for not just tackling those targets but meeting them.
“Everybody has a right to expect to see their stories being told,” Pat says of the need for new voices and perspectives in both scripted and unscripted programming. “They have a right to expect that people are going to be accurate when it comes to portraying them. It doesn’t mean it has to be happy television but if the only black people you see are in refugee dramas and the only Muslims you see are in terrorism stories, that isn’t the totality of their lives.”
“There’s an economic argument,” he adds. “Minority communities are growing faster. Those populations will be a growing part of the overall audience segment with greater demand to be seen and heard. There’s also a social inclusion argument; If their needs aren’t being served on a public broadcaster they will go to other places to get their information.”
Key to this is understanding that the twin concepts of diversity and inclusion are connected, but not the same. “One metaphor that Anne Mensah from Netflix uses is that diversity is when you invite people from lots of different backgrounds to your party. Women, gays, Jews, disabled people, black people…” he explains. “Inclusion is when you let one of them be the DJ and they choose all the records. Giving up a degree of control to allow other perspectives to take the stage. It’s about creating space for other perspectives to come through.”
The hurdle for many is practical implementation. What works and how do you ensure the processes are fair?
These are goals that hopefully most TV companies agree with and want to implement. The hurdle for many is practical implementation. What works and how do you ensure the processes are fair? “A lot of the policy framework stuff is already done,” Pat insists. “There are broadcasters around the world, you can take a million policies from them, synthesise them into a policy that can work for you.”
When it comes to internal policies to prevent discrimination among employees, Pat offers an example from his time working in the US. “Every organisation has biases. Conscious bias is illegal in most countries and you need to have policies that deal with that. Unconscious bias, you can deal with that in lots of different ways. When I joined Discovery Communications in America as a senior manager, I had to complete an online course on racism and sexism, how it was defined within the company, what I had to do as a manager if anybody raised a case with me. The crucial thing was that if somebody came to me with a discrimination complaint I didn’t have the luxury of doing nothing, even if they asked me not to do anything. I had to report it up through the system. In the event that somebody came to me with an issue that I didn’t refer up, I became personally liable for any damages. It’s a very American approach, it’s about protecting the company, but it forces you to act on it and not sit on it.”
But what about ensuring you have a diverse workforce in the first place? “If you think about interviews for creative jobs most of the things we have on our CVs are collaborations with other people. Often, at a certain level, it comes down to those other questions you have in interviews: what are you watching, what books are you reading, what plays have you been to? If I’m a black candidate and I’m reading very different books or going to theatres that you never frequent, we can still have a perfectly good conversation about them but we’ve all been in the meetings where you end up saying ‘I thought Pat was really interesting but I just felt Jane was a better cultural fit’ because you and Jane are reading the same books, you’re going to the same plays. You’re not saying you don’t want black people, but what you’re sort of saying is ‘[the white candidate] is more similar to us so they’re more likely to fit in and be successful’. And this is why at the BBC they made anybody who might appoint somebody do unconscious bias training.”
The fear hanging over many companies is that someone will make a mistake, say the wrong thing without realising and create a problem. Pat’s advice: own it and move forwards. “None of us want to be in the business of discriminating”, he says. “I believe a lot of the discrimination that happens is subconscious or unconscious, but people often get more upset about being accused of racism than about dealing with racism. I very rarely accuse people of being racist, but I’ve been accused of racism on occasion. Instead of just saying ‘Me? Can’t be!’ I’ll ask them ‘Why do you think that?’ to try and understand where they’re coming from. Deal with what people say, not with what you think they think. What people say is concrete. What you think they think is totally subjective.”
“People will make mistakes,” he continues. “A lot of this stuff is fluid. In the 1960s you could have called me coloured and that would have been fine. In the 70s you might have called me Black or Afro-Caribbean. Now it’s African-Caribbean or BAME (although I prefer black or black-british). Every now and again you’re going to misspeak or make a genuine mistake. You apologise properly and you move on. The crucial thing is not in making the mistake, it’s in hearing how that’s affected the other person and making amends.”