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Disabled workers in UK television industry face ‘consistent difficulties’ – report

August 24, 2021

A press release:

 

 

·        Ignorance of legal obligations by senior professionals working in television seriously damages disabled workers’ careers and drives many out of the industry, new research by the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity finds

·        Study produced by research centre at Birmingham City University reveals over 80% of disabled people working in the industry believe their disability has adversely affected their careers with 77% saying their career options are limited by their disability

A deeply damaging and inflexible workplace culture is preventing disabled workers working in the British television industry from progressing in their careers, according to new research.

The Career Routes and Barriers for Disabled People in the UK TV Industry report, available for download here, is released today by the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity (LHC) at Birmingham City University.

In the research, colleague’s attitudes toward disabled workers and lack of employer understanding about their legal obligations are revealed as the most common barriers to disabled industry professionals staying and advancing in UK screen industry roles.

The study also identifies lack of employer understanding about adjustments required by some disabled workers, and describes ‘consistent difficulties’ experienced by disabled people in the industry.

The report’s key recommendations include the creation of an industry-wide system to help implement adjustments when disabled people need them, as well as up-to-date training on equality law for all managers, and giving disabled people access to mentors, including other disabled people working in the industry, in addition to widening recruitment practices.

Such changes and improvements will lead to higher retention of disabled workers and more disabled people working at a senior level in the industry, the report says.

86 disabled UK television industry professionals, including Senior, Executive and Series Producers; Heads of Development, Directors, Production Managers and Producers were surveyed as part of the research. 

Over half (52%) of respondents have been working in the industry for over 10 years in a variety of genres, including news, current affairs, factual and factual entertainment programmes, and with a wide and varied experience of disability including people with physical impairments, people who are neurodiverse and people who have significant long term mental health conditions.

Key findings include:

·        Three quarters – 77% – of respondents felt being disabled had impacted on their career choices in the industry.

·        A majority of respondents – 80% – felt being disabled had impacted on their career progression, or was likely to in future

·        84% of respondents to Ansell’s research said they had access needs or required reasonable adjustments some or all of the time

·        51% of those surveyed reported practical issues such as being unable to drive or physically use equipment, working hours, additional requirements such BSL and support workers, as barriers to employment or career progression.

The report, commissioned by the LHC, was produced by Kate Ansell, a disabled journalist, writer and executive producer with over 20 years’ experience of producing current affairs and factual films for major broadcasters including BBC and Channel 4.

The RTS award-winning filmmaker said, “In this research, disabled people themselves describe the experiences they’ve had working in the TV industry, including the barriers they’ve encountered and potential solutions to the problems. What’s striking is the consistency of the experiences described and the simplicity of some of the solutions. It’s crucial that the industry acts upon what it is being told.” 

Survey respondents raised the issue of employer responsibility, with one saying “There is… little understanding of the Equality Act.”  All except one of the interviewees agreed, saying they felt employers didn’t understand their legal responsibilities toward disabled people.

Participants describedtaking an unconventional or nonlinear career path – partly as a result of certain recruitment practices, travel requirements, or stereotyping. One professional surveyed, described recruitment practices in television as being ‘like the Wild West’.  Participants who had had non-linear career paths believed this impacted on their career progression, with employers preferring applicants with more standard CVs.  Some identified this as a reason they had not been successful in obtaining more senior roles.

Some disabled industry professionals were ‘pushed’ towards programmes about disability issues – with some respondents choosing to take advantage of their insight, and others pursuing and struggling to find work outside disability programming.

Aspects of some entry level roles, such as runner jobs, can be a barrier to entry for some disabled workers. Ansell’s research found that in some circumstances, participants made the decision to continue in a potentially harmful role with negative physical or mental health consequences, without asking their employers for support or adjustments to avoid damaging or disadvantaging their career prospects.

The research also suggests that relocation – a notable recent trend for some major broadcasters – creates complex issues for disabled industry professionals, including sourcing accessible accommodation and rebuilding support networks, which could mean losing opportunities to accept contract extensions or pursue promotions.

Marcus Ryder MBE, Head of External Consultancies at Birmingham City University’s Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity, said, “Kate Ansell’s work is a necessary and timely contribution to the debate of how we increase diversity and inclusion in the television industry with respect to disabled people. It demonstrates a shocking basic lack of understanding of people’s legal rights, which is holding people’s careers back.

“The report also illustrates the ethos of the Centre, that empowering people from underrepresented groups to undertake the research and devise policies to overcome structural policies is the best way to progress. I sincerely hope the industry takes note of the issues raise in the research and more, implement the simple and practical policy recommendations contained within it.”

The Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity (LHC) is a newly established research centre, bringing together the expertise of established media professionals and academics.

Since launching in February 2020, LHC has released a number of notable and impactful research publications, including the Black to Front report for Channel 4 News and academic and industry journal Representology, which explores diversity in media.

The Career Routes and Barriers for Disabled People in the UK TV Industry report is available for download here,

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