Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) are three words (or letters) that are increasingly seen and heard in the media industry. According to recent research from Reuters Institute a third of respondents feel that ethnic diversity and gender equity are the most important priority in terms of improving their newsroom’s diversity.
As a result, media businesses large and small – from legacy media to start-ups – are working on strategies to create an inclusive workforce, which reflects and represents the diversity of the population. They are also focused on creating more inclusive content that reflects and represents the diverse needs of their readers.
However, it is this very diversity that the media is trying to embrace, which can create silos within the industry. With such a broad range of content, consumed in a variety of ways, the industry is increasingly divided. As a result, rather than sharing best practice, there is a lack of communication and collaboration between different businesses.
This is one of the challenges facing Sajeeda Merali who took over as chief executive of the PPA (Professional Publishing Association) in September 2021. She came into the role following senior sales director and commercial roles at Incisive Media, Euromoney and The New Statesman Media Group.
“There are so many different types of businesses in the ecosystem it has created a fragmented landscape,” says Merali. “So when I first joined the PPA we spent a lot of time trying to pin down what links them together. And it all comes down to content.
“Whether they are large multinational consumer titles, B2B publishers, or special interest independent titles, is about creating trusted content, in different formats, on different platforms for different communities. That’s what brings this diverse membership together.”
In a bid to ensure the UK publishing industry is serving all of these communities, and championing diversity and inclusion, the organization set up the PPA ED&I Working Group. Its aim is to share best practice with current members and also encourage a more diverse membership.
“There are some really interesting publishing brands coming up through ranks, who are serving niche communities,” says Merali. “We are actively doing more to attract these micro publishers in order to engage with them in the ED&I sphere.”
Its inaugural initiative was to invite all media publishers to participate in what it claims was the first survey industry-wide survey of workplace diversity and inclusion. A total of 5,786 people took part, from 44 different companies.
“The report provided us with essential data to better understand the barriers and challenges faced by different groups,” states Merali. “By bringing our industry together with this landmark survey, we can provide a snapshot of our workforce and create meaningful actions to support and improve current ED&I initiatives across the industry.”
Other research, such as the aforementioned study by Reuters and the BBC’s 50:50 Project, are also collating and using data as the foundation of actionable change.
One imminent action by the PPA is to launch a “Next Gen Board” that will help shape the future of the industry. The board will consist of 15 members aged under 30, from diverse backgrounds, and with a minimum three years’ industry experience.
“We want to literally create a seat at the table for the diversity we have across the landscape,” explains Merali. “Plus it’s a great opportunity for young and aspiring talent to gain board experience and work alongside some of the best in our business. The PPA Next Gen Board is creating a pipeline of future leaders.”
This collaborative effort of sharing best practice will benefit publishers of all ages and backgrounds. Older members will gain from the new board’s experience and knowledge of diversity, while the PPA Board will gain first-hand experience of operating at board level, with the support of industry mentors.
“Traditionally, there has been a lack of access to information across the industry,” explains Merali. “This is why we need a variety of voices and role models. Otherwise it just becomes a protest. We need to bring everyone with us on the journey, by making people comfortable with discussions around these topics.”
“Through all the different platforms we are using we can reach over 85% of the UK population. We can use the power of our collective network to shape the narrative in the industry.”
It is by using the industry’s collective power, gathering data and sharing best practice, that the publishing industry can cultivate an environment of inclusivity and fundamentally shift representation within the media.