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INTERVIEW: PRASH NAIK
GENERAL COUNSEL – LEGAL, COMPLIANCE AND GOVERNANCE, CHANNEL 4

Channel 4 GC Prash Naik talks about the 360° Diversity Charter introduced by the television broadcaster in 2015.

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Prash Naik (PN): The 360° Diversity Charter was launched in January 2015, and it’s part of a five-year plan that puts diversity at the heart of all the decisions that we make within the Channel, both on- and off-screen. Channel 4 is a publisher-broadcaster, so we don’t have in-house production; we work with over three hundred independent production companies. It was felt to be important that as well as imposing aspirational targets on our third-party suppliers, we should impose an equally challenging set of targets internally.

The charter sets out 30 initiatives and covers underrepresented groups within the industry, which include BAME, disability, LGBT, gender, and we also added social mobility, even though it is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. In addition, in January we launched our ‘Year of Disability’ in a year when we will be broadcasting the Paralympic Games in Rio. This includes two major new disability-focused talent initiatives both on- and off-screen.

In January this year we also published the results so far, so that they are measurable, accountable and available for everyone to view. In 2015 the 30 initiatives included both annual targets and stretch targets that we’ll build on up to 2020. The investment initially was around £5 million pounds. It’s about more than simply meeting targets, it’s about real and long-term, sustainable change, hence the five year ambition.

GC: Could you talk me through some of the key internal initiatives?

PN: We decided that the Channel 4 leadership team should have within their individual annual objectives a diversity goal, so that responsibility for diversity falls to those managers in a position to make a difference. That was then set down as mandatory for all Channel 4 leaders, and it was linked to the annual bonus.

There was an executive and board diversity review put in place to ensure that those at the very senior level of the Channel were committed to the charter and were fully aware of progress. In addition, a member of the executive team was appointed to champion diversity and the charter. So you have someone at the top table, reporting to the senior management and board, who can give the management below the support and direction that they need.

We put in place diversity and inclusion training through an e-learning module, which was compulsory for all internal staff to complete, to give them a better understanding of diversity issues, and how diversity impacts on Channel 4.

Staff are often wary of diversity monitoring, so we tried to encourage them to be more forthcoming by explaining why we needed the data and why it was important to track diversity within the organisation. We took inspiration from a leaflet produced by Stonewall called ‘What’s it got to do with you?’ which set out to encourage their staff to make full disclosure. It was less legalistic, it was warm and it encouraged people to be more open. We subsequently found that within significant protected categories we actually had a greater representation than our records previously recorded.

GC: How do you measure the impact of the charter?

PN: We introduced commissioning diversity guidelines to ensure that every new Channel 4-commissioned programme within 2015 worked towards increasing diverse talent both on- and off-screen. They did this using a two-tick option box. For on-screen, there were choices: a narrative in the programme which was supportive of, or addressed diversity issues, or you could opt instead for diverse talent on-screen. So if you had a game show, for example, where the subject matter couldn’t be diverse, you could opt for diverse representation of competitors taking part.

For off-screen talent, there were three categories: the senior staff or key creative roles; development, production team or crew; or training, internship and career progression. A smaller company might think, ‘I won’t be able to fill the key creative roles because there’s only three of us, but I could set up training, or an internship.’ The Channel provided support to initiate that.

We’re saying to suppliers, ‘we’re not asking you to positively discriminate (which is unlawful). We’re asking you to broaden the pool of people that you would select from.’ In some cases they might be working on a programme in a very narrow subject field where there are only two leading experts, both white and male. Here it won’t be possible to meet the guidelines on-screen but that doesn’t mean they can’t be met off-screen.

It’s not a perfect model. One of the criticisms is that the talent at the junior end is easy to recruit but as you go up the pool becomes smaller, and you find that there are only one or two diverse candidates. And, of course, our overwhelming criteria was that this has to be a merit-based approach. We are not asking for people to be appointed because of a protected characteristic. The fundamental issue is: have you thrown the net wide enough to find those people?

GC: Was there a lot of enthusiasm for this among the third party production companies and independent producers?

PN: There has been overwhelming support for the charter’s ambitions. However there was concern within the industry at large because other broadcasters had announced their own initiatives at the same time, and there was a lot of misunderstanding about what the law prohibits and permits. Along with our external employment solicitor, Graham Green at Reed Smith, we lobbied Ed Vaizey [the Minister of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport] to persuade the Equality and Human Rights Commission to issue guidance for the television broadcasting industry on what action they could take lawfully. They published guidance last August, and it’s only about 23 pages, but it’s very practical, very straightforward. It’s not advising people how to do it, it’s telling them the parameters around the Equality Act.

GC: Are there strategic benefits for Channel 4 and, if so, what are those?

PN: I think of inclusion and diversity as talent management: you want to hire the best talent, and that won’t only come from one social or cultural group. The danger of recruiting from one narrow pool is that people tend to think in the same way. By recruiting from a more diverse group you will get people who think in different ways and who challenge convention. That brings different commercial opportunities and, potentially, more innovative ways of working. That has to make long-term commercial sense.

GC: Are there any other metrics that you use to quantify the effect of diversity initiatives?

PN: We have something called Project Diamond, which goes live this year. Diamond is a new industry-wide diversity monitoring system created by the BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky to provide consistent and comprehensive monitoring and reporting of diversity. It will allow an analysis of diversity data, and it will be used by independent production companies and the Channel to capture on- and off-screen diversity on all UK-originated content. Over time, it will be the benchmark of how you measure diversity in the industry.

In addition, Channel 4 is subject to the ‘general equality duty’ under the Equality Act, which requires us to set out our policies and practices on advancing equality of opportunity within the organisation, how we foster good relationships between people with protected characteristics, and how we eliminate unlawful conduct like discrimination. This includes collecting data on protected groups, such as numbers of staff in post with their protected characteristic breakdowns, numbers of applications we receive against background, and equality at a senior level, in staff promotion and leavers. It’s already a very detailed breakdown of how we as an organisation are succeeding or not succeeding in this area. Again that’s publicly available; it sits in our annual report.

GC: What have you done in the area of social mobility?

PN: We’ve done some work with the Social Mobility Foundation to try and find five questions in our recruitment system which would identify an individual as coming from a less socially mobile background.

We want to offer a social mobility interview guarantee. So, provided you meet the minimum criteria and you come from a less socially mobile background, you will automatically get an interview, in the same way that we do for disabled candidates.

We are initially addressing grassroots social mobility at a junior level, in terms of placements and internships, to see how we bring in people at that level, give them an opportunity to get a foot in the door and then help them develop further up the chain. However, we are still learning how best to achieve this.

GC: What role has the legal team had in developing the charter?

PN: We were initially involved in a high profile age discrimination case - the John McCririck case -two years ago [a racing pundit who sued Channel 4 after being dropped from its racing coverage in 2012]. We did win, but we learned a number of valuable lessons about process and audit trails, which informed our thinking when it came to reviewing the charter.

The three-tier process for the charter was, firstly, to advise on the legal parameters of the charter, and we did this with our external employment solicitors. Secondly, we developed internal talent selection guidelines and a training programme to help our commissioners navigate the Equality Act and better understand what was being asked of them. Thirdly, we were involved in the lobbying of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to get industry guidelines produced.

We’ve also considered things like: do we build a database of protected candidates, with their consent, and allow people to use that? There were lots of worries that this was unlawful. Well, it’s unlawful if you use it as the only basis for recruitment, thereby narrowing your recruitment to particular protected groups, but if you use it as one of a number of resource tools then it’s perfectly fine to do.

GC: Has the legal team has taken a leadership role in developing the charter? To what extent has legal been an instigator of diversity change at Channel 4?

PN: The Channel 4 in-house legal team has historically advised the independent production companies on their content. The reason for this is to prevent self-censorship by companies – because we want them to take risks. That allows the producer to come to us with the most creative and challenging ideas, and we enable them to push boundaries. A similar ethos was adopted for the charter: we would try and provide a framework through training and through lobbying for the guidelines, to allow people to push a bit in this area by giving them a better understanding of the difference between positive discrimination and positive action, and other legal implications.

Of course, we’re not seeking to penalise those that don’t do it – there are no sanctions, these aren’t quotas. This is about giving companies some comfort around what can be achieved within the law, provided they have the right mindset.

GC: How about diversity within the legal team itself?

PN: We have a diverse team at Channel 4 which has been built up over many years, so the focus shifted to how we might improve access under our placement scheme. We currently offer up to eight (week-long) places a year. We decided that some underrepresented groups (BAME, disability and social mobility) were either not applying or were in small numbers, so we made a real push last year to try and widen the pool of applicants. We worked with a couple of organisations, and increased our profile in terms of diversity generally. We reframed the advert to appeal to more diverse candidates and have had some success in widening the range of applicants.

However, we were less successful in attracting disabled candidates, so this year we have applied to the Law Society’s accredited placement scheme, Lawyers with Disabilities Division. We would like to ring fence at least two places this year out of our eight for disabled candidates to come in.

GC: Do you have any tips for anyone who is designing a similar charter, or supporting their organisation in delivering similar overarching diversity schemes?

PN: You have to get immersed in the whole issue of diversity. If you embrace it, it’s quite an invigorating area to work within and it’s largely unchartered. There’s the chance to make a difference and actually push boundaries in a way that most lawyers don’t get the chance to do.

There are lots of ideas that can be cherry-picked from other industries and adapted and modelled to your industry. We found in our first year that sometimes we tried to reinvent the wheel, and then thought, ‘we should go and talk to people outside our industry and our comfort zone and see what they’ve achieved.’

The important thing to realise is that sustained change doesn’t come overnight and it’s a long-term commitment.

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