SBS unveils suite of diversity measures following disclosures of racism

SBS has unveiled a range of diversity initiatives, including appointing two Indigenous Elders in residence to “provide support and cultural empowerment” and creating two new executive roles.

The moves come in response to accounts of racism and toxicity perpetuated against former Indigenous staff.

Tanya Denning Orman, a Birri and Guugu Yimidhirr woman, will become director of Indigenous content, in addition to her existing responsibilities leading NITV. And Sarah Yassien has been promoted to director of corporate strategy.

In an email to staff, managing director James Taylor said the broadcaster would create a voluntary register of staff with a range of lived experiences to sit in on job interviews to minimise unconscious bias. A candidate development fund will also be established to encourage internal promotions and improve retention, providing each employee who is promoted with $10,000 to spend on professional development.

SBS’s Taylor

The broadcaster committed to identifying promising talent from under-represented backgrounds through an Accelerated Development Program, and focus on improving Indigenous representation beyond NITV by identifying positions elsewhere, across a variety of disciplines and levels.

And a number of ‘SBS inclusion champions’ will be identified and trained to engage in conflict resolution practices as an alternative to formal complaints and investigations. This step is designed to act as an additional choice between staying quiet and leaving if someone does not wish to go through the formal process.

In a statement provided to Mumbrella, SBS said: “Inclusion has always been at the heart of who we are and what we do at SBS.

“The diversity of our people, and their dedication to SBS’ purpose, is one of our greatest strengths. It’s central to our connections with the communities we serve, and the trust audiences have in us. We are committed to being an increasingly diverse organisation and ensuring SBS is an inclusive workplace for all.

“This week, SBS outlined to our employees a range of measures designed to support ongoing improvement. These cover areas including representation of diversity in our most senior leadership, and ensuring our organisational processes and procedures do not present barriers to inclusion. We also commit to making more information available – to our people and publicly – about our diversity and inclusion initiatives in due course.”

The lengthy plan is in response to disclosures of racism made last week by former employees, which Taylor said he was “shocked and saddened” by. Screenwriter and Indigenous Australian Kodie Bedford said she faced “micro-aggressions, forms of paternalism and racism” at the broadcaster 10 years ago, which cause her to “still carry trauma”.

After two years in the job, “my writing was worse, my self-esteem destroyed, I had suicidal thoughts. The stress on my body meant I developed eczema, I lost my period for four months, I stopped eating; a piece of toast filled me for the day because of anxiety,” she said.

“We felt like the dopey blackfellas in the corner, ticking boxes.”

In response to Bedford’s account, Allan Clarke, a Muruwari and Gomeroi journalist, said: “The racism Kodie, myself and our Aboriginal colleagues were subjected to was horrific. Those toxic years damaged us and left scars.” Presenter of the Guardian’s Full Story podcast, Laura Murphy-Oates, added that Bedford’s experiences were “horrifying”, but “not surprising to me as a former SBS Indigenous cadet”.

“That job gave me so much, but a few toxic managers can have a big effect,” Murphy-Oates, a Ngiyampaa Wailwan woman, said.

An open letter then circulated, demanding the next news director, given Jim Carroll’s impending retirement, be a multicultural appointment. The letter pointed out that every news director since 1978 has been an Anglo-Saxon man, except for Irene Buschtedt, who held the position between 1993 and 1995.

Taylor responded that “representation matters, and not unlike many institutions today, we still have a way to go to reflect the diversity of the audiences we serve amongst our senior leadership team”.

“Racism is abhorrent and I am committed to ensuring it has no place at SBS,” he said.

A week later, Taylor’s plan of action to stamp out racism also includes a number of measures relating to the organisation’s training, production, and communication processes.

All SBS staff will need to complete the organisation’s inclusion program, which will become part of new employees’ onboarding process. And a number of core processes will be looked at to identify improvements, starting with recruitment, the Program Alert List, and exit interviews.

SBS’ current corporate website showcasing its leadership team

SBS will also create a guide on how to produce and assess multicultural and Indigenous content, and any existing style guides or resources will be changed if necessary to reflect best practice. Additionally, a complete review of current production practices will be undertaken.

Every six weeks, SBS’ Inclusion Council meets. Following these meetings, information will now be sent to all staff in a bid to endure any action from those meetings is transparent.

And SBS’ corporate website will be updated to reflect the diversity of the team at all levels.


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