Breaking the class ceiling – social make-up of the TV industry revealed

18 September 2019

  • Television workers twice as likely to have attended private schools
  • Only a minority of workers come from non-professional family backgrounds
  • Slower progress on diversity since last year, with disabled people still greatly under-represented

The UK’s television industry is strongly skewed towards people from privately-educated backgrounds, according to Ofcom research on the sector’s diversity.

Our annual Diversity and Equal Opportunities in Television report [1] examines the social and economic background of the television industry for the first time this year. It also reports on companies’ progress in improving the representation of workers including women, disabled people and those from minority ethnic backgrounds.

The research helps Ofcom meet its legal duty, set by Parliament, to promote equality of employment opportunity in the broadcasting sector.

Measuring social background

Fourteen major broadcasters – including the BBC, Channel 4 and Viacom (which owns Channel 5) – provided Ofcom with initial information on the social and economic diversity of their organisations.[2] This included the type of schools attended by industry employees, and the occupations and qualifications held by their parents when they were growing up.

This has allowed Ofcom to draw an initial picture of social diversity in UK television, based on responses from 10,188 industry employees – or around 30% of the UK-based television workforce:[3]

  • Schools. No employee can control where or how they are educated. But the evidence suggests that the TV industry is disproportionally recruiting people from private-school backgrounds. People working in television are twice as likely than the average person to have attended private schools. Fourteen per centwent to independent or fee-paying schools, double the national average of 7%.[4] A further 22% went to state schools which select pupils on academic, faith or other grounds. Around half (52%) attended non-selective, state schools.
  • Family background. TV workers are also almost twice as likely than average to have grown up in homes where the main-earner held a professional occupation (60%, compared to the national average of 33%.) [5] Of the main broadcasters polled, this skew was heaviest among BBC and Viacom employees – who were more likely to say that the main earner in their childhood home worked in a professional role – and least strong among Channel 4 staff. More than half of television industry employees’ parents or guardians had degree-level qualifications or above.
  • The report details the steps broadcasters are taking to promote social inclusion in their organisations – including offering apprenticeships, internships, work-experience placements and early-career support for people from low-income backgrounds

Wider diversity

Last year, we were encouraged by broadcasters’ progress on diversity, particularly in further improving their understanding of the make-up of their workforces. But while we have more information than we did three years ago,[6] there has been no discernible change in the TV industry’s diversity profile.

  • Disabled people remain under-represented, with no improvement since last year. The proportion of industry employees who define themselves as disabled remains at 6% – still far below the UK working-age average of 18%. Of the five main broadcasters, Channel 4 (11%) and the BBC (10%) have the highest representation of disabled people, followed by Viacom (8%). ITV (4%) and Sky (3%) have the lowest.
  • Minority ethnic representation remains low at senior level. The proportion of minority ethnic employees in senior management positions has not risen significantly, moving from 7% to 8%. The proportion of people from minority ethnic backgrounds working across the TV industry remained at 13%.[7]
  • Women remain underrepresented at senior level. The proportion of women in the television industry has fallen to 45%, short of the 47% across the UK’s working population. The proportion of women in senior management roles has not risen significantly, moving from 41% to 42%. Men over the age of 50 are still more likely to be employed in television than women of the same age (19% v 14%).

Sharon White, Ofcom’s Chief Executive, said: “We want a TV industry where differences are celebrated, and the door is open to all. But the evidence shows that the dial towards full inclusivity is not shifting quickly enough, and we cannot allow progress to stall.

“Broadcasters must redouble their efforts to understand their workforces, examine what is working, and strive harder to attract the most talented people into television – whatever their characteristics or backgrounds.”

Next steps for the TV industry and Ofcom

By 2020, Ofcom is calling on the television industry to:

  • further narrow the gaps in diversity information, including on social mobility;
  • materially improve representation of disabled people through targeted recruitment and career development programmes;
  • work to ensure their workforce is more reflective of the working population of the area where they are based;
  • regularly evaluate the effectiveness of initiatives they have in place to a consistently high standard, to assess what works; and
  • work with Ofcom and other broadcasters to discuss new and creative ways of promoting equal opportunity.

Ofcom measures

Ofcom is also taking a range of steps in these areas, including:

  • seeking extended powers to allow us to collect information from broadcasters on a wider range of diversity characteristics;
  • working with Ofcom’s Diversity Advisory Panel[8] to further our understanding of the diversity agenda; and
  • analysing the impact of TV streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video on the make-up of the industry.

We will also be convening an industry event to refresh thinking on diversity and share best practice.


1. Alongside the main summary report (PDF, 2.4 MB), we have published:

Ofcom’s online diversity hub provides further information on the methodology behind our reports, including the legal basis for requiring this information from broadcasters.

2. Fourteen broadcasters, to a greater or lesser extent, provided socio-economic data: BBC Global News Limited, BBC UK Public Television Services, BBC Worldwide Limited, Bloomberg L.P., Blue Ocean International Media Group Limited, Channel 4, Immediate Media TV Limited,  Media Liberty Ltd, Phoenix Chinese News and Entertainment Limited, S4C, Shorts International Limited , Turner Broadcasting, TV Today Network, Viacom International Media Networks.

3. Of the 10,188 employees for which we have socio-economic data, most worked at the BBC (8,370, or 60% of its employees), Viacom (814, or 65% of its workforce) or Channel 4 (694 or 72% of its staff). ITV and Sky were not able to provide any social mobility data at this stage.

Socio-economic data collected by the five main broadcasters

We have collected socio-economic data for 10,188 employees, including main earner occupation, school type, parental/guardian qualification and entitlement to free school meals.

4. National average sourced from The Sutton Trust.

5. We asked about the occupation of the main earner in the employees’ household when the employees were aged 14. This is the broadcasters’ agreed primary indicator of the social mobility of employees, as recommended by The Bridge Group. Professional categories include roles such as senior manager, teacher, nurse, social worker, musician, police officer, accountant, solicitor, medical practitioner and scientist.

Family background breakdown

6. Across the UK industry, broadcasters now collect data on the ethnicity of 89% of employees, up from 88% last year; the religion or belief of 59%, up from 56% last year; the age of 88%, up from 86% last year; the sexual orientation of 65%, up from 59% last year; the disability of 71%, up from 69% last year; and the gender of 100%, up from 99% last year. Despite these efforts by broadcasters to close the data gaps we still lack information on age, sexual orientation and religion or belief for a large proportion of industry employees. So we have written to the Government requesting new powers to collect information on these characteristics.

7. Viacom has the highest proportion of employees from minority ethnic backgrounds at 20%, followed by Channel 4 at 19% (both up 1pp on last year). Like last year, 15% and 13% of the employees at Sky and the BBC respectively are from a minority ethnic background. The proportion of employees from minority ethnic backgrounds increased by 1pp at ITV to 10%.

8. Ofcom’s Diversity Panel was established in March 2019. Its members are: Ellen E Jones, writer, journalist and TV critic; Adrian Lester OBE, actor; Ian Manborde, Equalities and Diversity Officer at Equity; Anjani Patel, Head of Diversity at Pact; David Proud, actor; and Dr Yvonne Thompson CBE, current Chair of the Radio Academy.

TV industry diversity information 2018/19 – at a glance

Overview of the six protected characteristics: disability, racial group, gender, religion or belief, sexual orientation and age.