Those who are not counted do not count

It may sound unusual at first to ask your staff whether they belong to a minority, i.e. whether they are queer, have a disability, come from an immigrant family or have experienced racism. But how can you succeed in increasing diversity if you don't even know what the current situation is? It would be just as ridiculous to set up a program to promote women if you don't know how many women are working in which positions

In the case of diversity, we have observed that most decision makers in the media say they want to do more – and yet they don't collect any data.


In Germany, one in four people comes from an immigrant family, but only one in 20 journalists does.

Long since a matter of course in other countries

In Great Britain and Ireland, public broadcasters collect data on diversity and discrimination within their organisations as a matter of course and set targets for representation that are unheard of in the German media landscape.

Many federal agencies are now also launching surveys on diversity in their workforces without compromising data protection. Anyone who wants to get an honest picture of their company has no excuse not to do so.

Every employee receives an equal opportunity form with their employment contract, and every two years we also conduct an internal survey. The information that employees divulge does not affect their employment status, we always emphasize that. Their data is only seen by three people at the BBC, and it is not used for any other purpose without their permission. It takes a few years for employees to get used to it and trust it. But we operate really transparently and always answer any questions, even uncomfortable ones.
Miranda Wayland Head of Creative Diversity, BBC

How, what, and why we need to count

„Wer nicht gezählt wird, zählt nicht“, is how a handbook on equality and diversity policy sums it up. "Without 'measuring' discrimination, it is difficult to promote inclusion and equality, especially in large organizations, because it remains invisible to those not affected." We need transparent numbers on diversity within our own organisations, for only then can real change be initiated, and only then can we verify whether progress is being made.

Why everyone benefits from numbers

Another reason for taking stock of diversity in your department is because more people than just your medium benefit from it. Reliable figures are an important basis for social debates and change processes. Equal rights for women were made possible to a large extent by concrete figures of comparison. In the case of BIPoC, LGBTIQ+ or people with disabilities Germany still has a way to go. But looking at the progress made in other countries gives us hope that things will change here as well.

Why measuring discrimination is not discriminatory

Some recruiters argue that they do not collect such data for reasons of data protection or because collecting such data is discriminatory. Others interpret their lack of knowledge about the ethnic composition of their teams as an expression of their own tolerance - along the lines of "I'm not interested in what skin colour or nationality someone has." But if teams are predominantly white and consists only of journalists with typical German names, they should sit up and take notice.

The aim of such data collection is not to classify people into certain categories, but to find out whether everyone is being given the same opportunity. Therefore, it is important find out how your team members self-identify. But it’s equally important to ask them how others identify them.

  • A person with an Arabic-sounding name can be Christian or secular and still be affected by anti-Muslim prejudice.
  • People with certain disabilities do not necessarily see themselves as disabled but may be considered disabled by their peers.

If we want to identify this kind of discrimination, we cannot avoid asking people about their ethnic and cultural identities.

A journalist with a Bosnian background can feel just as German as her colleagues without a migration background. However, if she is the only person in her department of immigrant descent, this can be an important indication that the decision-makers in her company treat applicants with non-German roots differently.

Which data is collected?

The decision as to what should be surveyed depends on the areas in which you want to achieve more equality. If you’re aiming for a balanced gender ratio in your editorial department, asking employees about their religious affiliations is irrelevant. The discrimination categories of the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG) can serve as a guideline:

  • Race[1]
  • Origin
  • Gender
  • Religion and beliefs
  • Disability
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation

A person’s social class can also lead to discrimination, as is sometimes the case for people from poor backgrounds or from formally less educated families.

It’s important: to note that German media should not simply adopt and translate templates from abroad but should consider the specific situation in Germany and the conditions of our language. While in Great Britain the umbrella term BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) is used to describe non-white ethnicities, in Germany, there are different individual terms, such as migrant, person with a migration background, Black, Afro-German, person of colour, Asian German and many others, which groups use to describe themselves.

Therefore, ideally, try to involve representatives of the respective groups and researchers in the categorisation process.

Why the migration background is only of limited help

The so-called “migration background” has one advantage: it is clearly defined by law and is regularly surveyed by the Federal Statistical Office. It is therefore well suited for use as a parameter of measurement and comparison. At least in theory. Unfortunately, however, it does not provide sufficient information about people's different experiences of the inequalities they face. White Austrians, Swiss or Scandinavians, by definition, also have an immigrant background, but as a rule they do not face discrimination on account of their names or physical appearance. We therefore recommend collecting data on the migration background in combination with other areas of discrimination, such as experiences of racism. You can ask people to provide this information anonymously and voluntarily.

Who should be surveyed?

Once you know which questions to ask, the next step is to know whom to ask. The best thing is usually to involve everyone in your editorial department. The higher the percentage of participating employees is, the more relevant your results will be. However, bear the following points in mind:

  • Participation is voluntary. If staff members do not want to participate, they do not need to participate.
  • All data should be collected and analysed anonymously, making it impossible to trace answers to or draw conclusions about individual people.
  • The purpose of the survey should be made transparent to all participating.
  • If all this is done, it is highly likely that a large proportion of the workforce will participate in the survey.


When not to, and whom you’d better not ask

An anonymous survey does not automatically prevent individual persons from being identified. If, for example, there is only one person with a disability in the surveyed group, criticism about a lack of wheelchair ramps can easily be assigned to that person, even if he or she gave that information anonymously. The smaller the editorial team is, and the more precise the questions are, the less likely you are to get a true picture. In the case of surveys on gender and intersectionality, there is a high risk is of unintentionally outing people.

  • Make all possible survey participants explicitly aware of this problem.
  • When designing your questions, make sure to involve experts on diversity and data collection from the start.
  • Do not ask more questions than necessary.
  • Make the group whose data you are collecting as large as possible: for example, by conducting the survey not only for your newspaper, but for all the media of your publishing house. Better still, support an industry-wide survey.


Adhering to data protection requirements

The German data protection laws present high hurdles for the collection of personal data:

  • In general, data may only be collected and processed within a narrowly defined framework.
  • Much of the data that can help to measure diversity and discrimination is considered " personal data." The Federal Data Protection Act lists information about "racial and ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, health or sex life” as personal data.
  • This type of data may only be gathered and processed with the explicit consent of the subjects. This consent can be given by filling a form of declaration of consent at the beginning of an online survey.
  • There are further strict legal, technical, and organizational requirements, for example in the programming of the interface and the encryption of the data. It is therefore wise to involve a data expert to accompany all steps of the data collection.


What happens after you’ve collected the data?

A survey is of no use if no consequences result from it. The real work begins after the evaluation of the questionnaires has been completed. You now know more about the conditions in your department and have concrete figures to back you. Where do you want to go, what targets do you want to achieve, which steps are sensible and necessary? (See chapter Chef*innensache)

  • How should job advertisements be formulated to appeal to underrepresented groups? (See chapter Recruiting)
  • In which areas is further training required, and for whom?
  • How can all this be evaluated and made transparent? (See chapter Evaluation)

You can only answer these questions truthfully once you know which problems your department faces and how big these are. Measuring diversity and discrimination is only the first step, the prerequisite for finding solutions.

A short note to all editorial departments with “absolutely no discrimination”

Often, the firm conviction that "there is no such thing in our department" indicates a lack of sensitivity to exclusionary mechanisms and discrimination. Anyone holding the firm conviction that they are totally free from thinking in clichés or succumbing to stereotyping runs the risk of overlooking problems. This kind of absolute conviction is an indication of a chasm between self-perception and reality:

It’s possible to discriminate without "malicious" intent:
We often tend to think of prejudice and racism only as something that happens intentionally. But discrimination happens even when people don’t mean to act in a discriminatory manner.

Unconscious Bias:
Unconscious bias is deeply embedded in all of us - no matter how enlightened, sensitive or "woke" we consider ourselves to be.

Experiences of discrimination are subjective:
The head of an editorial department may be convinced that his/her staff do not behave in a discriminatory way. But members of that same staff may have quite different experiences.

Similarity principle:
People trust people who are like them. German, white, educated middle-class editors-in-chief therefore often tend to hire German, white and educated staff.
And if there really is no discrimination in your editorial department, why not get empirical confirmation and shine as an attractive employer.

The 7 principles of data collection

Our partners at „Citizens for Europe“ have identified seven principles that organizations should follow when collecting data.

  1. self identification
    Survey participants can indicate how they identify themselves and are not only given external attributes to choose from (in addition to options they can select, they are given empty boxes to fill out themselves).
  2. voluntariness 
    Whether to participate in the survey or not remains a voluntary decision. Nobody should be pressured to participate.
  3. transparency 
    All participants are informed about the purpose of the data collection.
  4. anonymity 
    All data is collected and processed in such a way that the respondent is not or is no longer identifiable.
  5. participation 
    Groups and persons affected by discrimination should be included in the process of developing the categories and questions of the survey. This is important if you want to avoid stigmatizing questions.
  6. intersectionality 
    Respondents are given the option to choose multiple identities and grounds of discrimination, e.g. female, immigrant, and homosexual.
  7. do no harm 
    The data collected is aimed to improve the situation and to protect structurally disadvantaged groups and must not be misused.
These media organisations are on the right track

While monitoring diversity is common practice in many media organisations in the English-speaking world, there are hardly any media institutions in Germany that measure diversity or keep track of discriminatory experiences. The few exceptions in Germany are:

Thomson Reuters
The international news agency records the nationality of its journalists in Germany to evaluate their diversity statistics. Currently, 31 percent of the staff hold a foreign nationality. This is partly explained by the fact that many correspondents must be multilingual.

Westdeutscher Rundfunk
Since 2014, the WDR has been keeping statistics on the ethnic and immigrant backgrounds of newly hired employees. Participants give this information voluntarily and it is rendered anonymous. According to the broadcaster, in 2021 16 out of 42 trainees (38 percent) came from immigrant families. In the three preceding years, they also made up over 30 percent. In the non-journalistic departments, the number is slightly lower. Of the 177 employees, apprentices and trainees who joined WDR in 2019, 40 had an immigrant background (22.6 percent). The willingness to participate in the voluntary survey is obviously high, with about 90 percent of trainees responding. This is very positive.

In 2013, SWR reported that it had conducted a one-time anonymous survey on the migration background of all its staff, in which more than 2,000 employees participated. Nineteen percent said they had a migration background. How high the percentage was among the journalistic staff was not communicated outside the organisation.

Good Practice: DIAMOND - Joint Monitoring for the main UK broadcasters

DIAMOND is a cross-broadcast external monitoring system for broadcasting companies in the United Kingdom. The system ensures a common standard for monitoring diversity. First, it measures the actual diversity of the people working on a programme, both on- and off-screen. And second, it measures how an audience might perceive the diversity of characters and contributors on-screen. With Diamond, a broadcaster can for example see how high the percentage of disabled people is in their comedy shows, or how many employees with Asian roots actually work in their newsrooms

The system was pioneered by the BBC. Now ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5/Viacom and Sky also use Diamond to measure diversity and discrimination in their companies. To date, there is no comparable initiative in Germany. Who will lead the way in Germany?

  1. 1 Das AGG spricht nicht mehr ganz zeitgemäß noch von „Rasse”.