No, the podcast industry isn’t as diverse as you think it is

The fact that diversity is still a problem is frustrating, but not surprising

Last month, I attended The Podcast Show for the first time as part of the PodPod team and while it was hectic to the point of almost giving me a nervous breakdown, it was truly one of the best experiences I’ve had in my podcasting career so far. 

I spent three days running from interview to interview, session to session, and hiding out in the media lounge trying to get articles sent in within the half hour space I had in my calendar to sit and write. Even a trip to the bathroom took at least 20 minutes because you’re guaranteed to be stopped at least three times on the trip there and stuck in five minutes of small talk with someone you’ve emailed two months ago - but it was all worth it. 

The adrenaline rush that came from speaking to podcasters all over the industry, from creators to CEOs, was thrilling and the casual, almost festival-like atmosphere led people to open up and speak more freely than they perhaps usually would. 

On day one of The Podcast Show, I attended a session with UKAN and Content is Queen on DEI in the podcast industry. During that session, the owner of UKAN Laura Blake and Content is Queen founder Imriel Morgan revealed survey results that showed that if you’re a woman and not a white man then you’re actually getting paid less now than you were in 2020 - even accounting for inflation. Shocking, right? 

Actually, it’s not. There were no gasps of shock or alarmed wide eyes in the audience. Instead, there were just grunts of frustration at an issue that most of us in attendance - professionals and creators from marginalised backgrounds - already knew, because we’re experiencing it in our day to day lives. Being treated unfairly or looked down upon is a common experience for most people of colour in a white-dominated society and it’s something that follows you from school and university to your workplace and adult life. 

When Morgan stood up to speak about what led to her decision to cancel the International Women’s Podcast Festival and the disappointment she felt from the lack of support in the industry, the words got stuck in her throat and she had to take a moment to fight back the tears welling up in her eyes. We all cheered her on, but there was nothing we in the audience could do to reduce the pain she was experiencing; the pain we all were experiencing. 

The second I stepped out of the room, I had tears welling up in my own eyes and I could feel heat burning up from my cheeks - not because of the sadness, but through anger. Anger at the fact that we’re still having the same conversations, and that diversity is always treated as an afterthought and not a priority. 

It’s only when these companies are put on blast online and called out for their lack of action, as Content is Queen did with the open letter that it released to the audio industry, that they finally start to pay attention, let alone start to take action. This is similar to what happened in 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, where many companies and organisations took to social media to pledge their commitment to diversity and inclusion, but it’s apparent that this isn’t as much of a priority as these pledges would suggest. 

It’s not just this session in which this conversation came up. Every time I stopped to speak to another person of colour in the podcasting industry, we spoke about the same things: Why are most of the attendees at The Podcast Show white? Where are all the diverse speakers? Why was the only session at the show with two south asian women cancelled due to technical difficulties and not rescheduled like the other affected panels?

Fair enough, this could’ve been them trying their best to be inclusive with limited contacts but if doing your best still isn’t inclusive enough, then this reflects a wider issue of not enough diverse speakers and contacts being put forward for events like this. 

So while some may say that the podcasting industry is diverse because it’s new and full of young people, I have to disagree with them, because the experiences I‘ve had - and the experiences that other creators of colour have spoken about - prove that it’s the opposite. It’s worth remembering that diversity within the lower levels and the independent sector doesn’t make the industry as a whole diverse; the big platforms need to be actively promoting these voices, as well as putting people from diverse backgrounds in charge, to really make a difference. 

What this industry does have that gives it an advantage over other media sectors is the potential to do better. More and more young people are entering the podcasting industry - especially with courses like the Podcasting MA from City University popping up - and the industry has a chance to make itself accessible and welcoming to those coming from underrepresented backgrounds if it starts to make changes now. 

Part of making those changes is to speak to the figures that are advocating for more diversity commitments and working together with them to create action plans that lead to productive outcomes. Speak to organisations like UKAN and Content is Queen and ask them what there is to be done and how to do it, rather than posting a one-off campaign during Pride month and calling it a day. 

In order to be truly inclusive and meaningfully fulfil DEI promises, these considerations need to be in a company’s strategy all year round, and not looked at as an afterthought or as part of a performative campaign. Last month, we interviewed co-founder of BIPOC Podcast Creators Tangia Al-awaji Estrada about diversity in the industry and she said she believes the future of podcasting is multicultural. I do believe that’s still a possibility - but making empty promises does not cut it anymore. It’s time to take action.