The founder of Gal-Dem has said mainstream media outlets are failing to promote black staff into management positions, as she steps down five years after founding the website aimed at women and non-binary people of colour.
Liv Little, who has overseen the site’s growth from a small blog platform to an increasingly influential media company, said outlets were getting better at hiring young staff from diverse backgrounds. However, many of these individuals were drifting away after being overlooked for promotions.
“For any of these major players, you need that talent to come in but you also need to make sure that talent stays on and is able to reach leadership positions,” she said.
She also said the wider media industry needed to stop treating all people of colour as a homogeneous group and represent diversity of opinion: “My experience as a black woman is going to be different to the black woman next to me. That is honestly one of the key things. Not all women of colour think the same.”
On Tuesday the BBC’s annual report showed that it had missed its own target of having 15% of leadership positions held by staff from a minority ethnic background, amid wider concerns within the organisation about promotion opportunities for people of colour.
Little’s first break in the media was working for a Channel 4 production trainee scheme but she said she found herself feeling uncomfortable after being “labelled as the diversity trainee”.
“A lot of these organisations have legacy and resources that we don’t have,” she said. “They have capacity to change, to not just have people of colour on freelance contracts, and to listen.”
She decided to quit television production to run Gal-Dem full-time after the site began to take off: “I was running around making cups of tea on the set of Horrible Histories, having these Gal-Dem clients call and pretending I was too busy to talk.”
Little also said mainstream outlets should stop asking people of colour to continuously write about their experience of trauma: “There is so much trauma that we consume as people of colour. It’s important to have space for black joy as much as the pain.”
The dire state of the online advertising market means Gal-Dem, which has about a dozen staff and substantially lower readership figures than mainstream news outlets, is heavily reliant on brand partnerships with corporate clients and events for income.
The company has attracted a small amount of outside investment, including from the black-led venture capital firm Blackstone Capital. There have also been tie-ups with traditional media organisations such as the BBC and the Guardian.
In March the site, which is said to be profitable, launched its own membership scheme, attracting around 3,000 paying customers paying between £5 and £15 a month, now bringing in around a third of its revenue. However, a planned expansion into the US this year was scuppered by the Covid outbreak.
Little, who is stepping back from the site to return to academia, said she had tried to avoid the pitfalls of other media startups which over-expanded and burned through venture capital money hiring too many staff without a sustainable business model. She said securing the site’s financial future was important to ensure women of colour had a platform for their output: “We owe it to the community.”
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