Why increasing diversity is not unfair to white people

Telegraph article about the BBC misleadingly implies that white applicants are discriminated against

The Telegraph reported yesterday that half of the places on the BBC training scheme had gone to candidates from an ethnic minority.

Is this a good thing, in an organisation that Greg Dyke famously described as "hideously white"? Not quite: misleadingly, it is framed as discrimination against white people.

The article implies that minority applicants are improperly and disproportionately favoured:

Fifty-one places have been made available under the BBC's Journalism Trainee Scheme since 2007. Of these 24 have gone to candidates from ethnic minorities -- 47 per cent. The latest estimate by the Office for National Statistics is that six million of the 54 million population of England and Wales is non-white -- 11 per cent.

It is spurious to draw a link between these two percentages. For starters, there are very few contexts -- workplace or otherwise -- that precisely reflect the demographic of the wider population.

What about the fact, for instance, that 54 per cent of leading journalists, 42 per cent of frontbench politicians and 70 per cent of barristers were privately educated? Only 7 per cent of the population goes to private school.

More importantly, such a comparison suggests that the BBC is complicit in some kind of anti-white, ethnic-minority takeover. The BBC employs 25,000 people worldwide, a substantial portion of them in Britain. In this context, 24 traineeships -- which do not guarantee a job afterwards -- begin to look like a drop in the ocean.

The article quotes a (rejected) white applicant complaining that it was unfair that he had been asked about "developing stories that would be of interest to ethnic minorities". Why is this unfair? The BBC is a public-service broadcaster, and as such needs to appeal to a broad audience. Would it also be unfair if a private school candidate was asked how he or she would develop stories that would engage an uneducated audience?

My main problem with the piece is its implication that the candidates could not have been selected on merit, or that the white applicants would somehow have been better suited to the job, in every instance.

The article concedes that "under the Race Relations Act 1976, organisations can offer training to specific groups that are under-represented in their workforce". It is an indisputable fact that ethnic minorities are under-represented in the media. You have only to walk into the vast majority of newspaper offices to see that for yourself.

The BBC is obviously stepping up its efforts to attract a more diverse range of applicants. That it is appointing more ethnic minorities to the training scheme is not evidence, however, that those people were appointed solely because of their racial background: they will have performed excellently in their interviews and been selected on merit.

A key aim of the trainee scheme is -- and has always been -- to increase diversity. The Telegraph's implied argument that this is unfair to white candidates falls down, because the odds are still stacked against ethnic minorities entering the workplace. Research based on ONS figures found that graduates from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds were 10 per cent less likely to find employment than their white counterparts (56.3 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively, found jobs). Until this is equalised, the argument that white candidates are being discriminated against is redundant.

The Telegraph itself reported last year that just 4.4 per cent of BBC managers were from an ethnic minority. If this is changing, even incrementally, it is a good thing.

Special subscription offer: Get 12 issues for £12 plus a free copy of Andy Beckett's "When the Lights Went Out".

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.