ITV’s chief executive says the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd in the US and the backlash to dance-group Diversity’s routine inspired by the event were “big moments” for the corporation’s approach to inclusion.
Carolyn McCall said a “quick and unanimous” decision was made to stand by the group and dancer Ashley Banjo in the wake of the 25,000 complaints sent to watchdog Ofcom.
Speaking as part of the Channel 4 Inclusion Festival, Ms McCall said it was difficult for broadcasters to deal with viewers due to the quick and “unbelievably vicious” reactions.
She told interviewer Rohit Kachroo, global security editor at ITV News, that such moments had caused her to realise that progress with diversity and inclusion at the broadcaster needed to be quicker.
“When I joined (ITV)… there was no joined up, shared experience, shared understanding of ‘this works or this doesn’t work’ so we set up a diversity and inclusion council,” she said.
“I thought ‘this was really good, this is progress’ because everyone was chatting… we had targets.
“Then of course everything changed with BLM and particularly with George Floyd, that was a big moment and what it made us realise is that we were doing all the right things but in a very incremental way and it was taking forever.
“That moment really woke us all up to the fact that it wasn’t changing quickly enough, that was the wake up.”
Ms McCall said she was surprised at the fierce reaction to the Bafta-winning dance routine, which was performed on Britain’s Got Talent in September last year.
“We were like ‘what?’ and we ended up taking a very quick decision, it was unanimous and very quick, to stand by Ashley and Diversity,” she said.
“For us it was part of what we are trying to show that we are. Those moments for me made me realise there was so much more to do.”
Ms McCall said broadcasters were expected to be fairly progressive organisations but had to be careful about how they responded to viewers.
“When you’re dealing with viewers, especially on social media, that’s more difficult because you get these unbelievably vicious reactions really quite quickly and you have to decide what to do.
“I think that is our view now; never react and literally wait and let it play out, then you can go back with a much more comprehensive response.”
Ms McCall added she “didn’t really care” if her decision to appoint Ade Rawcliffe to the ITV executive board as group director of diversity and inclusion was branded as “tokenism”.
“I knew it would change the conversations we were having at an executive board level,” she said.
“Equality and inclusion were topics we were going to discuss a lot more of because we would have someone with a very different lived experience around the table.”
“If you’re not reminded of always having those conversations, you tend to forget them.”