While the industry is seeing some progress in terms of gender pay gaps and representation, commitment to DEI in some quarters is waning, with too little focus on systemic change. Joanna Cummings rounds up the past 12 months in DEI as part of our Media Moments 2023 report.

2023 has been a mixed bag on the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) front. It was the year Vogue published its first ever Braille issue, and featured 19 disabled people on its cover, but is also the year when Edward Enninful, having challenged certain advertisers on the inclusivity of their campaigns, was removed from his position at the title and promoted to the much more amorphous ‘Editorial Advisor’. 

Coincidence? It’s hard to say, though as Media Voices’ Peter Houston pointed out, “If seeing a Black, gay man heading up one of the most iconic publishing brands gave just one magazine journalist the belief to push ahead with their career, then that’s a win”.

DEI: just another trend?

There have been mutterings that the industry is treating DEI as another ‘trend’, rather than as a fundamental problem, and Mother Jones’ Maria Jones-Newman posited that three years after George Floyd’s murder, interest in DEI is waning. She stated that, “Diversity is only as important as the most recent unrest”, and said that as budgets shrink, DEI initiatives are often the first part of business strategy to be put on the chopping block. 

One Atlantic piece suggested that current DEI efforts are ineffective because too many C-suite executives believe that paying for diversity training sessions is sufficient to change the industry. And D&I Innovation Consultant and journalist Shirish Kulkarni said that media companies’ actions in the DEI space are “largely superficial and/or performative, [and] fail to understand either the real problems or the systemic solutions that are required”.

Slow progress

That’s not to say there haven’t been positive developments. A Digiday report found that many media businesses, including Hearst and Condé Nast, had reached or exceeded gender parity, and many had more Black, Hispanic/Latino and Asian employees in editorial and managerial positions. Press Gazette also reported that the gender pay gap at UK media companies had narrowed from 15.7% in 2017 to 12%, and women at Newsquest and CNN International were paid more than men.

There have also been an increasing number of DEI initiatives. Dow Jones and Columbia Journalism School partnered to create a “new talent incubator program”, in order to support emerging journalists and boost diversity in newsrooms; and ad agency Rhotic was acknowledged at the UK Social Mobility Awards for its “outstanding commitment” to support diverse junior talent within financial journalism.

Multiple barriers

While the focus of DEI has – understandably – been on increasing racial diversity, there have been reminders for companies to consider barriers related to age, socioeconomic status, neurodiversity and sexual orientation. Isabel Berwick at the FT highlighted that class is still a huge barrier to many and Belinda Basil-Jones, Chief of Staff at 55/Redefined, told MediaWeek Australia that the industry is “failing to acknowledge one of the most significant social transformations of the 21st century” – namely, that the over-60 population is set to grow by 40% by 2050. 

At a time when some brands are withdrawing support for LGBTQIA+ communities for fear of a backlash, The New Digital Age launched Media Pride, an initiative that, amongst other things, aims to combat disinformation around the trans community, and The Independent launched the Pride Hub as the exclusive news partner of Pride in London.

Time to reassess

While there are numerous stats to suggest things are on the up, there is certainly a long way to go. The Harvard Business Review highlighted that for true DEI progress, organisations need to consider attrition, performance, promotions, the leadership pipeline, pay equity and inclusion, as well as hiring, which, Paolo Gaudiano said in Forbes, may tick a box but could force minoritised people into unwelcome and problematic environments. Gaudiano also believes that the waning of DEI action provides an opportunity for media companies to rethink their (ineffective) strategies.

Quartz’s Zach Seward said that racial justice is “a life’s work” – a statement that, while particularly pressing for racial diversity, is the case for removing all barriers of access within the publishing industry.

Joanna Cummings is a freelance writer and editor, writing for companies such as FIPP, Mensa and a variety of scientific publications. She is Editorial Director of The Grub Street Journal, “the magazine for magazine people”, and was shortlisted for Editors’ Editor at this year’s BSME Awards.

This piece originally appeared in Media Moments 2023; our annual report exploring the key events which have shaped the media and publishing industry over the past 12 months. For more including case studies and podcasts, download it for free here

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