Black Lives Matter and Covid have forced businesses and charities to confront uncomfortable truths about racial and social injustice

Posted 3 November 2020

Media Trust CEO Su-Mei Thompson discusses representation and why hashtag activism isn't going to work in 2020.

Representation in the media has been in the spotlight this month with a number of high-profile industry events tackling the subject.

Facebook’s IAB Upfronts Session last month tackled the Acceleration of Culture in a series of high octane talks and panels. I was honoured to be asked to join the iconic June Sarpong and industry veteran Keith Weed on a panel chaired by Facebook’s Zehra Chattoo. Watch the whole panel here or Martin Harbech’s 2-minute recap of his favourite highlights here.

 I was also delighted to be invited to speak at last week’s launch event for the BBC’s 50:50 The Equality Project’s Challenge. The lively panel which you can watch here was moderated by Ros Atkins, presenter of Outside Source and the founder of the BBC’s 50:50 Project.

Here’s why everything we do at Media Trust is about media representation at some level and why we’re so passionate about the subject.

Covid and Black Lives Matter have underscored how we need to do a better job as a society of listening to the voices of people with lived experience if we want a more equal world.

At Media Trust, we believe that giving everyone a voice is how we’ll get to a more equal society. That’s why we’re proud to be helping marginalised communities to challenge entrenched negative stereotypes and advocate for more authentic media representation.

We’re proud to be helping marginalised communities to challenge entrenched negative stereotypes and advocate for more authentic media representation.

Supporting charities and young people

We’re helping hundreds of charities who are providing vital services and support but are overwhelmed with the 24/7 news agenda and the challenge of cutting through especially on social media. At the same time, we know many charities are still lacking the digital skills to migrate their delivery and comms online.

This has given rise to unprecedented levels of demand for our comms and digital skills training for charities, delivered with the help of our industry partners, and our matching services which connect charities with media and creative sector volunteers. Because we know non-profit work can’t just be done by non-profits.

Meanwhile, our youth programmes are giving 1000s of young people from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority backgrounds the skills, access and mentoring to break into the media sector. Because we know that talent is everywhere, but opportunities are not. A big shout out to all of the fantastic media organisations that have offered jobs, internships and work experience to Media Trust programme alumni over the last few weeks. Thank you to Edelman, Element Studios, Sky News, Twitter and Vice Media.

A K-shaped recovery will only cause the gap to diverge more widely and put brands and charities more under the spotlight

Economists are now predicting a K-shaped recovery with the gap between haves and have nots diverging even more widely – plus looming massive unemployment, more lockdowns and travel bans – all of this will test the strength and appeal of brands and charities like nothing we’ve experienced before.

Now more than ever, customers are looking to brands to demonstrate they’re putting people and the planet on par with profit and they want the brands they buy from to stand for something. Before lockdown, we’d already seen a growing number of brands led by pioneers like Unilever using their brand power to destigmatise everything from body shapes to periods. If a company’s purpose and values were clear to begin with, then the decision of what to do now shouldn’t be as hard as it is for other brands who didn’t have clarity on these things before the pandemic hit, which we’ve now seen to be true for most businesses.

Now more than ever, customers are looking to brands to demonstrate they’re putting people and the planet on par with profit.

As we saw with Black Lives Matter, many brands found themselves caught on the horns of a dilemma between staying silent and being called out or cancelled for having a platform and not speaking out, or they’re speaking up and then being criticised for woke-washing, virtue signalling and pandering because they rushed to publish the heartfelt email they sent to all employees or to black out their logos.

Hashtag activism vs real allyship

The thing is hashtag activism is easy, the real work is much harder: If you look at how the FTSE 100 companies responded to Black Lives Matter and compare this with what the same FTSE 100 companies are actually doing to address diversity internally: 14 CEOs penned statements condemning the killing of George Floyd and 20 FTSE 100 companies tweeted in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. But only two of the 100 FTSE 100 companies have published their ethnicity pay gap data and only nine publish data on the ethnic diversity of their senior management. So the first thing businesses need to do is to put their own house in order in terms of recruitment and promotion and pay gaps, and to extend that approach to the freelancers they employ and their supplier and partner networks.

Brands who are now jumping on the bandwagon of racial justice, climate change, loneliness and mental health and haven’t made any meaningful contributions to the cause before now need to stop and think what it really means to be an ally to the causes they’re looking to co-opt. They need to have the humility to acknowledge that real allyship doesn’t happen overnight – it takes time to build. It involves forging relationships with marginalised communities that are based on trust, consistency, and accountability. And since when did allyship become a self-defining thing? Don’t even think about using the label until you’ve put in the work and that effort has been recognised by the non-profit organisations and communities you’re seeking to ally with.

They need to have the humility to acknowledge that real allyship doesn’t happen overnight.

We’d also love to see more media organisations involving more of their stakeholders in their decision making, whether it’s having more stakeholder representatives from various communities on their board, or on an advisory council that they really listen to.

Another thing that media businesses can do is to encourage and support more of their staff to volunteer with charities. At Media Trust, we have a passion for helping companies and individuals to give back. We’ve facilitated thousands of successful matches between charities and media industry volunteers. This ranges from whole teams to individual filmmakers, journalists, digital strategists and social media experts who are using their skills to elevate the voice of others. The media industry has incredible expertise in storytelling, influencing hearts and minds, building movements, and many charities – particularly smaller grassroot organisations – are crying out for those skills.

Outdated charity tropes

We also know the charity sector is going through its own upheaval with a growing recognition that the reframing of many traditional tropes is overdue. Comic Relief’s announcement last week that they will no longer be sending celebrities to Africa after criticism of white saviour stereotypes is a case in point.

Comic Relief’s announcement last week that they will no longer be sending celebrities to Africa after criticism of white saviour stereotypes is a case in point.

For the longest time, charities have believed they need to make their writing audience-centric which sowed the seeds for the trope of the donor as hero, reinforcing the idea of white saviourism. However, as Priya Changela, marketing and fundraising officer at Disasters Emergency Committee, and consultant, Kristie Lockhart, pointed out in their excellent session on ethical copywriting at this year’s Fundraising Everywhere’s BAME Fundraising Virtual Conference, while audience-centricity is important, it should never be at the expense of the people charities are writing for, and poverty porn fundraising imagery, which features “sensationalised and dehumanised starving African children, completely alone, whose very existence is presented as contingent on the benevolence of saviours from the West,” risks reinforcing systematic inequality.

#RaceEqualityMatters

We are at a pivotal moment when both the business and charity sectors are confronting uncomfortable truths about racial injustice and social inequality. There are learnings to be gained and opportunities for collaboration that, if we lean into, will and can make a difference. On that note, Media Trust is delighted to be a foundation partner for the UK’s first ever Race Equality Week, from 1-7 February 2021. Register here to find out how you and your organisation can get involved.

 

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