Not just gender: Findings from BBC’s 50:50 Project on ethnicity, disability inclusion

2021-07-30. The BBC 50:50 Equality Project uses data-driven methodology to monitor content and fundamentally shift the representation of women within the media industry and in news coverage.

by Neha Gupta | July 30, 2021

This grassroots initiative was launched by Outside Source presenter Ros Atkins in 2017.

In October 2020, the British broadcaster expanded the project’s ambit to include disabled people and ethnic minorities. 

The 50:50 Project functions on three core principles:

  • Self monitor and collect data to monitor change
  • Stick to measuring only what the contributors can control
  • Never compromise on quality

The company has repeatedly emphasised that the 50:50 Project is not a quota system, but concentrates on finding the best available voices. 

“In a bid for equal representation, we have ended up finding excellent voices across genders, to widen our pool of fabulous voices and enrich our storytelling,” said Nina Goswami (Creative Diversity Lead and Journalist, BBC, London) during WAN-IFRA’s recent Indian Media Leaders eSummit.

In 2017, BBC’s Outside Source set an example for teams across the organisation by starting off with a 40 percent women’s representation, and not just attaining the desired 50:50 split in only a few months but being consistent with that ratio. 

Four years later, the project currently encompasses more than 670 teams across the BBC, working relentlessly on those three core principles to create change in their content.

The BBC has partnered with more than 100 organisations across 27 countries, who are now using 50:50 to increase women’s representation. The 100+ companies comprise business partners (the likes of Unilever and PwC) who are now careful about the representation of their spokespeople in the media landscape, and universities and journalism schools in a bid to sensitise journalism students about diversity before they kick-start their careers and bring in their best practices along. 

Expanding the 50:50 Challenge

For the first time since its inception, BBC’s network of partners reported the results of the 50:50 challenge alongside the broadcaster. Here are the findings as of March 2021. 

  • Of the half of the partners who took part in this challenge, 41 organisations reached 50 percent women representation in March, up from 31 percent from when they started three years ago in 2018. 
  • This mirrors what happened at BBC internally. Currently, 70 percent of the BBC’s teams have 50 percent women’s representation, up from 36 percent in 2018. 
  • As more teams become representative of women’s voices, the “under 40 percent representation” component has reduced too. 

“Over the last 3 years, we have seen the red part of this chart reduce every year. The longer you monitor your data and use it to create change, while understanding what your content looks like, the less likely you are to be in the ‘under 40 percent’ component. I am hoping in the next two years, we see the blue component reducing, too,” said Goswami. 

Consistency Challenge

Another internal BBC challenge, which has not been extended to cover its partners yet, is the Consistency Challenge, which is featuring women’s voices in their coverage and staffing consistently, over time. 

The organisation defines consistency as reaching “50 percent and above” women’s representation for at least three months, and not dropping below 45 percent women’s representation in any month, from October to March, each year. 

In 2019, 18 percent of BBC teams were consistent in representing women. In 2020, 36 percent of the teams achieved the same. In 2021, that figure stands at 40 percent.

The BBC also surveys its online consumers, including iPlayer, BBC Sounds and the BBC News app. 

  • This year, 62 percent of its users noticed more women in BBC’s content; 
  • 44 percent of 16-34 year olds said they enjoyed the content put out by BBC more, as a result of increased women’s representation, and
  • 58 percent of women aged 16-34 began consuming more of BBC’s content.

50:50 beyond gender

The BBC 50:50 Equality Project is now trying to be inclusive of disabled people and those from ethnic minorities and aims to achieve a 50:20:12 balance. This stands for achieving 50 percent women’s representation, 20 percent ethnic minority representation and 12 percent disability representation. 

“This ratio is, however, not definitie and reflective of the audience of the targeted geographical area. We aim to achieve this for our UK content, but the numbers change depending on regional audiences,” said Goswami. 

For instance, BBC London TV will aim to achieve 50 percent ethnic minority representation, instead of 20 percent, and BBC Scotland will aim to achieve 8 percent ethnic minority representation because 20 percent is too high for them. 

“We do exactly the same thing for disability too. Depending on your particular audience, we are tailoring and flexing the targets so that you are representing your audiences better,” said Goswami. 

Impact so far

Since its launch in October 2020, BBC has witnessed 220 teams be a part of expanding the 50:50 challenge. 

Of those who began monitoring their progress between October 2020 and March 2021, 51 percent saw some form of improvement. 

“This improvement could even be 1 percentage point and the reason is that we want to give the teams time to absorb in the workflow and create a culture change that they saw when it came to gender representation,” Goswami said. 

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done around disability and ethnicity representation and to hit the targets our teams have been setting for themselves,” she said.

Neha Gupta

Multimedia Journalist

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