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How the Equality in Audio Pact Came Together, by Renay Richardson

This article is written in an “As Told To” format, based on an interview with Broccoli Content’s Renay Richardson.

When it comes to the audio industry, I, like many black people in the industry, have been ignored when speaking of our treatment. Many of us are shut down, and many are fearful of the repercussions if we speak up. The culmination of the world watching George Floyd beg for his life and die a slow, degrading, inhumane death and Amy Cooper invoking her privileged white woman victimhood against a black man on camera, all during a global pandemic, was the breaking point for us all.

After many conversations with the Broccoli Content team — that’s Bea Duncan, Jaja Muhammad, Tony Phillips, and Hana Walker-Brown — during that first week of growing unrest, I had a call on Sunday evening with many of my black colleagues. One of the main things that kept coming up was: How do we make white people care? How can we make white people understand?

I couldn’t sleep that night, and decided that I wanted to put a challenge to the audio industry: a five-point pact that could lead to change. I had two points in mind straight off: no longer using unpaid interns, and not only hiring minorities for roles related to their identity.

On Monday morning, I went into our Broccoli video call where we catch up with each other about our weekends etc. and told them the plan. I wanted all the points to be actionable from today and something a company of any size could do. My job was to come up with the wording, and in our group chat, we mixed it up about what the other three points could be.

By 2 pm on Monday, we had five points we were happy with. I made a graphic (which was crap), then had a call with Sony. The call was about something else, but I told them my need to do something. I told them the points and they offered help with the graphics and suggested that I reach out to some production companies who would pledge ahead of time as it would show a united front. Falling Tree, Boom Shakalaka, WeAreUnedited, Don’t Skip and We Are Grape all got back to me pretty much immediately, and by the next morning it was all set up.

The tweets announcing the pledge and putting out the sign-up form went out just before 9 am on Tuesday. The response was incredible. Obviously, one entitled white man I’ve never met or spoken to before emailed saying he should have been involved in the planning, but apart from that, we were off.

I then @‘d all the white people who usually ignore me. Strategic public shaming. By the end of day one we had 53 companies signed up including Acast, Transmitter Media, and Third Coast. It’s now over a hundred, and we’re listing them all on the Broccoli website here. Staff at these companies have put pressure on management internally, and that’s why places like the BBC have signed.

Let’s look at the five points in the pact.

(1) Pay Your Interns. If you pay interns, you open up the pool of people who can enter the industry. Even though it is illegal not to pay interns in the UK, many companies still use unpaid interns, which means only the privileged few get those opportunities.

(2) Hire LGBTQIA+, Black, people of colour and other minorities. If you hire diversely across your whole slate of shows, not just black people on black shows and queer people on queer shows and so on, you completely open up the possibilities around how topics are framed, what guests are booked and who is heard.

One of the suggestions when we were discussing this internally with Sony was that this should be framed in terms of making sure shows have diverse guests, that they feature diverse voices. But ultimately I think that if you hire diversely, it filters out into every level. You need to start from the source, and the source is who is producing and who is part of the creative process. You can be more than one identity — and also have interests in other things, I’m a fully formed human! I think for far too long the industry has got away just hiring people for what they see them as.

(3) Pay gap data. This is for larger companies that publish gender pay reports. The reason these reports are published is for companies to be held accountable for making improvements. What most people don’t know is that the majority of pay gap reports are only for the white employees. Race pay gap data is often separated out and released later, usually hidden behind a bigger story. We want the data released at the same time so we can all see the differences and companies be held to account and made to improve the gaps between black / people of colour and white people.

(4) Only representative panels. I mean, this should go without saying. If your panel is all white, you’re doing it wrong. But also if you’re holding an event in Edinburgh, for example, Edinburgh should also be represented on the panel. Let’s stop pretending knowledgeable people only live in London, New York and LA.

(5) Be transparent about roles. A lot of companies with 10 or fewer employees will have a “team” picture which includes the black and brown faces of their contract workers. We want to see who works for you and know if they are permanent staff, getting all the benefits they deserve. If you have a team of ten and one black face or no black faces, you are upholding white supremacy.

So many companies have all white employees with just a couple of black and brown faces as temps or on short contracts for their black show or their queer show or whatever. But when they do the team shots on the website, they’re in the pictures. Let’s be real, who actually works with you and what is their role. Be transparent about it.

I think we’re actually at a time now where people want to hear us. A lot of us have been saying the same thing for years, and been ignored. But now we finally have your ear, and you’re listening.

I definitely don’t want to make this about me, and I don’t want to run it going forward — I have my own job to do! But I do want to have things in place where we can each hold each other accountable, and members of staff can hold their companies accountable anonymously so they feel protected. Public shaming clearly works, but we need to scale that.

That said, I’m thinking of holding a town hall soon for all the people who have signed up to the pact and anyone who has questions about signing, because I think it would be good for us all to contribute to how we’re going to be accountable.

I’m kind of… “Hopeful” is not the right sentiment. It’s more that I’m observing what’s going on, and I feel like something different is happening right now. And I think it’s a good thing.

You can follow Renay Richardson on Twitter here, and sign up to the pact here.