Posted on April 8, 2022

Inside the BBC Staff Exodus

K.J. Yossman and Manori Ravindran, Variety, April 6, 2022

At least 15 women of color have left the BBC in the last year saying they are “exhausted” from fighting a system that “is not systemically built to support anyone who is different,” a Variety investigation has uncovered.

“There has been an exodus,” says Simone Byrne, a Black Scottish journalist who spent 16 years at the BBC, first in news and then in diversity and inclusion (D&I), a unit that recruits diverse talent and ensures compliance with in-house D&I policies.

Byrne left in November 2021 after being told by her managers that she needed to be “sensitive about how I speak about race to white people.” She had pointed out that after two years of lockdown, the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests, no one at the organization had asked “how I’m feeling or about being Black in the BBC or in this media space.”

“I said, this should really have been addressed,” says Byrne. In response, she was told “people felt uncomfortable [with] me saying that.”


Despite the BBC’s attempts to reform, however, multiple sources — many of whom have refused to speak on the record for fear of being penalized professionally and socially at the BBC — point to a culture that favors white, middle-class and privately educated staff, and has all but “abandoned” a generation of older, female, Black, Asian and other minority employees.

As of March 2021, Black, Asian and minority staff accounted for 15.9% of all BBC workers, and 12.6% of leadership. The target, according to management, for these groups is 20%. Just 12.3% of news and current affairs staff in leadership identified as Black, Asian or a minority, while 79.5% identified as white-British.

BBC staff from Black and brown backgrounds describe a “culture of survival” that stems from not seeing themselves reflected in their workplace. “When you know that nobody around you thinks like you, understands your weekend and your social life, they don’t understand anything about you,” says one source.

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The majority of those who have left hail from two departments: news and D&I. “The newsroom within the BBC has a significant issue [with women of color],” says one former BBC journalist, a woman of color who spoke on condition of anonymity.

After over a decade with the corporation, she left in 2021 feeling like she “just mentally couldn’t go on.” She is now seeing a psychotherapist “to help me move on from my experiences.”

In the last year, at least eight women of color have left BBC’s news department, including Byrne. The corporation’s most senior Black news executive, Debbie Ramsay, left in February 2021 to move to Channel 4, followed by reporter and editor Helier Cheung, who took up a London-based position at the Washington Post in August 2021. Similarly, Rozina Breen left to join the Bureau of Investigative Journalism last month as chief executive and BBC News presenter Sangita Myska also recently exited.


“I am super grateful for my experience, but at the same time, I am disappointed how alienated I was made to feel in the run-up to leaving,” says the journalist who is now seeing a psychotherapist. At one point, while recounting her experiences to Variety, she broke down in tears.

Among the experiences she recounted are having to ask a white male colleague to send emails on her behalf because hers were often ignored; being repeatedly confused with other women of color in her department; being patted on the head and spoken to condescendingly by a white male colleague; being left off the nominations list when a project she had initiated and worked on was put forward for an award; and repeatedly being denied opportunities to move from a junior to senior journalist position over 10 years of being at the BBC.

In one case, she was told a role she was working in was junior level and could not be upgraded to senior despite her experience and extensive responsibilities. However, after she moved to another department, the role was taken over by a white journalist who was given a senior title.

“They have no problem with entry-level hires,” one 15-year BBC veteran who recently left tells Variety. “You can get a job at the BBC if you’re from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background, no problem. But you will get to a certain level, and then you’re not going any further.”

The D&I department — which was first formed in 2016 when workplace diversity was written into the renewal of the BBC charter — has seen a similar exodus, with at least eight women leaving and another senior female executive believed to have handed in her resignation. Of the eight, six were women of color, including Jackie Christie, a race lead for a key BBC human resources program, and the BBC’s de-facto deputy head of diversity, Miranda Wayland, who resigned last month.


Current and former BBC staffers tell Variety the latest exodus can be attributed to a number of factors, chief among them a culture that has struggled to tackle racism and sexism. “As a Black person or a person of color, they cannot see you as being part of the target audience,” Byrne says. “I think that is where a lot of the issues kind of come from.”

Figures for the ethnic distribution of all staff by length of service, broken down in the 2020-2021 BBC Annual Report, reveal that Black, Asian or other minority staff have fewer years of service than their White-British colleagues. As of March 2021, 23.9% of Black, Asian or minority staff worked at the BBC for less than a year, and 20.9% for anywhere between 1-3 years. Only 12.4% worked for stints of 10 years or more.

In comparison, 66.5% of White-British staff worked at the BBC for less than a year and 69.2% for 1-3 years, while 78.1% stayed for longer than a decade.