The new disclosure proposals for broadcasters explained

What are the implications for employers if they are forced to reveal figures on how many gay and transsexual staff they have on and off screen? Keely Rushmore reports

Leaked government plans have reportedly revealed that it is considering giving Ofcom the power to force broadcasters such as the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV to publish data in connection with their staff (both on and off screen) to include age, pregnancy and maternity, marriage, gender reassignment, religion or belief, and sexual orientation. 

Diversity and equal opportunity is undoubtedly a hot topic, particularly – but by no means exclusively – in the media sector. BBC presenters have on numerous occasions complained about the lack of diversity within the industry. Many female presenters have gone public and complained about receiving significantly less pay than their male counterparts. Miriam O’Reilly famously won her employment tribunal claim for age discrimination in 2011, after she claimed she was dismissed from Countryfile for being too old.

Since 2017, Ofcom has required broadcasters to disclose figures relating to gender, racial group and disability. However, according to recent newspaper reports, culture secretary Nicky Morgan has written to the government seeking to widen the scope of these requirements. If these proposals are approved, a wider range of characteristics will be monitored and collected from broadcasters, arguably providing more meaningful and complete data regarding the make-up of their workforces. This data will highlight where improvements need to be made and will track trends and changes that have taken place over the years. In turn, this will provide greater transparency and accountability across the industry, which will – it’s hoped – promote diversity and inclusion.

Although Morgan’s letter related specifically to broadcasters, if this proposal is implemented, it could have an impact on other industries and is likely to affect large organisations such as the civil service in the first instance.

This proposal is a step in the right direction in an attempt to further close the gaps in diversity. There seems little reason to narrow the scope of the collection of data to gender, race and disability, excluding the other characteristics that are protected by law. If the data isn’t available and accurately measured, it’s difficult to understand the scope of the problem and for improvements to be made. 

However, although this proposal will push for greater diversity within organisations, it will also place additional administrative burdens onto them. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the accuracy of the data will depend on staff being prepared to provide the information in the first instance, and a failure to do so may skew results.

Although organisations are currently not obliged to provide such a wide range of data, a greater focus will enable organisations to use anonymised data for statistical analysis, to look at both the number and proportion of groups within their business and the positions occupied. 

Employers should consider new and creative ways of promoting equal opportunities within their business and ensure systems are put in place to collate this data in the most effective way.

Keely Rushmore is a partner in the employment law team at SA Law