More Than Words: What The BBC-Naga Munchetty Case Teaches About Diversity And Inclusion At Work

Once again, when it comes to diversity, the BBC is the source of the news. The reaction to a viewer’s complaint targeted at Naga Munchetty, leading to the corporation’s executive complaints unit (ECU) upholding the complaint, led to an outcry on social media. Days later, the director-general of the BBC Lord Hall reversed the decisions of the ECU.

The complaint took issues with Munchetty’s reaction to President Donald Trump’s controversial “go back” remarks targeting Democratic congresswomen. During a live segment of the BBC Breakfast show in July, Munchetty reflected on the significance of that expression in an exchange with her co-presenter Dan Walker. “Every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism,” she said, before adding: “Anyway I’m not here to give my opinion.”

The ECU initially ruled her remarks went “beyond” what the corporation’s editorial guidelines allowed—but Lord Hall then reviewed and reversed the decision following protests from MPs, journalists and social media users who tweeted their support to the broadcaster with the hashtag #IStandWithNaga.

The knee-jerk reactions in this story highlight the complexity of diversity and inclusion. Diversity is the first step in a more complicated process of embarking on cultural change. Any means of adjustment takes time, but cultural change is deeply embedded not least because it requires a willingness for individuals to accept and embrace change. Shareholders, customers create the stimulus for change in fast-paced markets. Companies have to respond quickly, and this creates the first weak link.

A superficial response does not create a foundation for lasting and effective change. The paradox companies are dealing with the most valuable asset they have, their talent, without thinking through the longer-term impact of these initiatives. In honesty, the BBC is under fire because it is business in the spotlight; however, multitudes of companies face similar challenges.

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