In an interview ahead of her transition from Head of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) at ITN to Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion for the Financial Times (FT), Priscilla Baffour shares her journey as a diversity leader, reflecting on the challenges she has overcome, her successes and vision for the future.
Referencing her early experiences as a media student and later broadcast journalist graduate, Priscilla described the initial challenges she faced pursuing a career in media.
Breaking down social mobility barriers
“There was a clear financial and economic divide between my peers and I, who despite also being students, already had a foot in the door through their parent’s network.” Priscilla describes the additional cultural pressures applied by her parents; “you must work harder than your white peers” and also the burden she felt she placed on them, relying on the bank of mum and dad whilst she worked for free in the industry, to get experience.
Her 6th Form Tutor, who later became her mentor helped her secure work experience at the BBC, this provided her with an insight to the industry yet she reveals that there were still significant information barriers, particularly understanding how different departments work and how to effectively manage relationships with industry contacts at the age of 16.
Whilst Priscilla expresses gratitude for having her tutor as a mentor, she also recalls a defining moment during this period.
“I remember wondering why my tutor was applying pressure on me to get serious when all I wanted to do was have fun and follow my friends. I explicitly remember her saying; don’t worry about them, they will be alright. I didn’t understand what she meant until later on in life. But she was right. Both of my friends already had parents in the industry and I was essentially an outsider attempting to navigate in a space where at the time, who you knew preceded what you knew and how good you were.”
Breaking down age barriers
Understanding the challenges that young people experience at the start of their working lives prompted Priscilla to actively be part of the solution. Whilst working at the Media Trust, she pioneered a new area of outreach work that effectively partnered young people aged 16-25 with media companies who would provide work placements and mentoring support for disadvantaged young people who wanted to pursue a career in media. She also worked across campaigns
The Sun, ITV and Channel 4 were a few of the many partnerships that she managed. The impact of her work was both beneficial to young people but also businesses that were keen to demonstrate their commitment to corporate social responsibility.
Her talent was recognised by Channel 4 who welcomed her expertise and provided her an opportunity to extend her knowledge and transform the experiences of young people entering both the workforce and media industry.
As the face of 4Talent, Priscilla was a visible inspiration for young people, black people and women keen to work in media. Yet Priscilla quietly observed that whilst she was achieving success, particularly accelerating opportunities for young people, the roles were primarily entry-level.
Looking around the company, she recognised how intimidating the environment could be for a young person who was not used to working alongside busy industry professionals.
As a young leader, Priscilla was keen to see young people and those from disadvantaged backgrounds enter the industry due to their creative competence rather than merely on their length of service.
Leading on the development of 4Talent, Priscilla worked to embed a strategy that supported the recruitment and retention of diverse talent. She was part of the team responsible for implementing Channel 4’s 360 Diversity Charter and she also won the Deputy Prime Ministers Excellence Award for tackling social mobility. Speaking with admiration, Priscilla acknowledges that Channel 4 was a great place to really effect change; they had a clear commitment to improving diversity and embed a culture of inclusion.
When asked what her biggest challenge was, Priscilla takes a moment to pause.
“I was a young, confident, driven woman and genuinely passionate about inclusion because I was coming from a place where I personally knew how important and life-changing certain opportunities could be.”
“I did what I had been advised to do and adopted the mantra ‘you have to work harder than the rest’, this served me well because I excelled, yet progressing into more senior roles was not easy. I was simply seen as a young person.”
Breaking down inter-sectional barriers
After leaving Channel 4, Priscilla founded We Do Diversity. Her exceptional media contact list that included BBC, Sky, ITV, MTV, The Sun, News International and many more provided her with the opportunity to continue to identify and source the best diverse talent for media businesses. She provided consultancy, coaching, mentoring training and led on bespoke industry events. Yet, it wasn’t long before her expert skills were yet again required on a more permanent basis by ITN.
“After 15 years in the industry, there were things that I was still keen to change. One of the priorities that I was keen to address at ITN was widening the pool.”
Priscilla worked with the CEO and HR Director to develop and implement ITN’s first D&I strategy with included KPI’s such as:
- Transparent targets
- Recruitment for every role needed to include at least one BAME candidate. If BAME candidates did not apply, she would send recruiters back out to look in different spaces because she knew that these candidates existed
- At least one female candidate is shortlisted for every role and if this did not occur, it would need to get signed off by the CEO
When asked why some candidates did not apply for particular roles, Priscilla boldly stated; “Confidence and awareness. It can be quite intimidating to enter an environment where people do not look like you. Sometimes you second-guess yourself when you are around people who have been working in an industry for a long amount of time. It’s easy to talk yourself out of going for the job. I am pleased to say that at ITN, we have worked hard to turn things around and make everyone feel welcome.”
As a wife and mother, Priscilla recognises the importance of work life balance and flexible working for all. She shared that one of the approaches to recruitment at ITN is not advertising whether a job is full-time or part-time but instead being open and negotiating with the right candidate, what works best.
Priscilla expressed that she is aware that unconscious bias exists.
“Names on a CV, home address, lack of Russell group university affiliation can paint a picture of a candidate but it’s important to be conscious of this and self-regulate when recruiting. It’s also very important for staff to have a safe place to address concerns. Whilst people are on board with the D&I agenda, I have still had to ensure that I have support with the agenda that I am so passionate about. I have access to great support through my network of peers in D&I across various sectors.”
Diversity and inclusion makes good financial sense
As the newly appointed Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion for the Financial Times, Priscilla describes being pleasantly surprised at the diverse landscape.
“The FT have done a great job at addressing diversity and inclusion making it a key priority. I’m delighted to be part of the world’s leading business news and information system. I know there will be challenges in my new global role as each country has different issues and different laws. However I’m up for the challenge and am excited ensure that employers know that people perform the best when they can be themselves. This is another important reason why diversity and inclusion matters.”
Priscilla Baffour is due to take up her new role at Financial Times in March 2019.