BBC’s Former Creative Diversity Head Joanna Abeyie Speaks Out: ‘A Psychologically Safe Working Environment is Crucial’

The BBC’s former head of creative diversity Joanna Abeyie has spoken out about her stint in the role, saying “a psychologically safe working environment is crucial” particularly in the field of DEI.

Writing in the BFI Sight and Sound Black Film Bulletin, Abeyie, who stepped down from the role last July, said: “I loved my role at the BBC. It felt like I could and indeed was making headway. I left with confidence that several key stakeholders and commissioners were committed to making programmes with and for diverse talent and audiences.”

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“So why did I leave? Unfortunately loving a role and being committed to its purpose isn’t always enough. A psychologically safe working environment is crucial in any role and especially important when levelling the playing field for underserved talent and audiences, which requires huge amounts of empathy and compassion. It’s not a role for the faint hearted and without that safety it’s incredibly troubling work.”

Abeyie became the BBC’s third creative diversity executive in two years when she joined the broadcaster in April 2022. She left after 16 months to return to her company Blue Moon, a consultancy specializing in diversity and inclusion as well as executive recruitment.

“These roles can become untenable when autonomy, influence and decision making is minimal to absent,” Abeyie added in her piece. “When there is no sign of improvement and the role is created because optically it’s the right thing to do.”

“Essentially, if the role doesn’t provide the EDI executive with the true ability to change anything, they are alone in their pursuit of making sustainable changes which is almost certainly a shortcut to burn out.”

Abeyie was brought in to replace June Sarpong, who stepped down in Oct. 2022 after two and a half years in the role, and reported to director of diversity and inclusion, Chinny Okolidoh.

Last week it was reported that Okolidoh had stepped down after 20 months in post. Broadcast revealed Okolidoh would not be replaced as her role has effectively been shut down. Instead, the BBC is recruiting for a new role, titled chief talent and inclusion officer.

A spokesperson for the BBC told Variety: “We agree that levelling the playing field for underserved talent and audiences is hugely important, and we are more committed to this than ever. Over the last few years we’ve made good progress in achieving our 50:20:12:25 targets and have, through our Creative Diversity Commitment, invested over £128 million in diverse and inclusive content that reflects underserved audiences from diverse backgrounds.”

“To ensure D&I remains front and centre of our plans we’ve now commissioned the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity (LHC) to review our Creative Diversity Commitment. We’re also bringing together our Workforce Diversity & Inclusion, Creative Diversity, Recruitment, Careers, and Academy agendas all under a new more senior role of Chief Talent and Inclusion Officer to supercharge what we are doing in this space.”

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