Trailblazers: CDN’s Deborah Williams on the importance of inclusion initiatives

This article was originally published on January 20, 2020. Once again, Realscreen highlights several individuals whose work is impacting the non-fiction screen content industry, and the entertainment world in general. From ...
June 2, 2020

This article was originally published on January 20, 2020.

Once again, Realscreen highlights several individuals whose work is impacting the non-fiction screen content industry, and the entertainment world in general. From exposing injustice to celebrating and promoting diversity on camera and behind the scenes, these Trailblazers are taking risks that are paying off, and paving the way for progress. Look for more of our Trailblazers for the year here, in the days ahead. Here, we feature Deborah Williams, executive director at the Creative Diversity Network.

In the UK, the Creative Diversity Network (CDN) was formed to establish a common standard for monitoring diversity across all of the region’s main broadcasters, which are all members and stakeholders. In 2016, it launched Diamond (or Diversity Analysis Monitoring Data), an ambitious online system that allows those broadcasters — among them, BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5/Viacom and Sky — to collect and ultimately share data on diversity on and off screen. Individuals can anonymously submit online diversity forms, with that data — including the gender, gender identity, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability of people working on or off screen on all UK originated productions — then used to collate annual reports.

Since late 2016, Deborah Williams has served as executive director at the CDN, overseeing initiatives such as Diamond and the Doubling Disability project, which aims to double the percentage of people with disabilities working in off-screen roles by 2020, and is also backed by the UK’s major broadcasters. Increasingly, she is looking beyond the UK’s borders to liaise with broadcasters and production companies in other territories regarding best practices in diversity and inclusion. While she’s encouraged by efforts underway in Australia, she sees that North America has work to do. With public service broadcasting not as dominant a force as in the UK, and with “constant competition and limited chance for collaboration and pooling resources to meet a bigger agenda,” Williams sees a lack of movement in an area where North American broadcast outlets should want to be seen as doing their part.

Three years on, what have been the main challenges with rolling Diamond out, and what have been the key successes?

In my opinion the main challenges stemmed from the IT nature of the project. Working with technology and external third party developers and several layers of employees internally across all of the Diamond broadcasters meant levels of agreement and sign-off were multiple and complex. It required a considerable amount of collaboration and pragmatism to meet the original deadline for publication. The key success of the whole project is that we were all able to work together and really get to the bottom of what it is we wanted to achieve, and how to create something innovative and ground-breaking that would facilitate change and lead the way globally in diversity monitoring. I also think that having dedicated staff was a success measure. People working on the project full time and really drilling into all of the issues and concerns meant that we were able to go live as promised.

While response rates over the first two years of the project have hovered around the 24-25% mark, the number of contributors has more than doubled over that period. In what areas do you want to focus outreach to grow the response and contribution rates?

It is true that the rate is a steady one, which in terms of research is a positive thing. When you look at the numbers of people who have engaged with Diamond and continue to, it gives me confidence that the more we publish, and the more the Diamond broadcasters share and discuss how they are using the data, the more interest and participation will rise. It’s a little chicken and egg, really. You need data to tell you what’s going on and you need to know what’s going on so that you can ensure that as many people as possible are willing to share their personal data.

Is there interest from other territories in mirroring the Diamond project, or adapting the initiative for their broadcasters/producers? Are you consulting with executives in other territories with that in mind?

Australia has been very interested in going down this road and seeing how it may be possible. I was invited to speak with Australian broadcasting executives at Screen Forever in 2017, and have maintained contact with them ever since. Early this year I was there again and got an update on how things are going. It all sounded very familiar, but they now have a staff member and are in the early design stages of a system. It is nice to see and we hope to continue to support them as they find their way through things.

This story first appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Realscreen Magazine, which is out now. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.

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