RIOCH EDWARDS-BROWN Interview
Interview by Justin Small
RIOCH EDWARDS-BROWN IS THE FOUNDER OF SO YOU WANNA BE IN TV? AND ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN IN DIVERSITY IN THE UK TODAY. SHE IS AN EXPERT IN DIVERSITY AND TRAINING FOR BRANDS AND CORPORATES TO ENGAGE AND RECRUIT NEW GAME-CHANGING TALENT THROUGH CHANNELS UNTAPPED BY ANY OTHER SOCIAL IMPACT OR BUSINESS ALIKE. RIOCH HAS BEEN IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES TOP 100 BAME LEADERS IN THE UK 2018, 30 UK GAMECHANGERS 2018 AND 50 MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN IN UK TECH 2017
RIOCH I run a non-profit Social Enterprise called “So You Wanna Be In TV?”. We are Gen Y/Gen Z diversity experts and future- proofing consultants. In a nutshell what that means is that we answer the issue around the industry skills gap and the lack of diversity, all the way from entry level right to C-suite and boardrooms. We also help future-proof organisations to ensure that they don’t do a ‘Kodak’.
JUSTIN And how are you doing that at the moment?
RIOCH We provide practical steps to increase diversity, transform and future proof Family Offices, FTSE100 and Fortune 500 companies through talent, campaigns and market intelligence.
We are basically a direct link between community and commerce in the form of talent recruitment, helping organisations navigate, survive and thrive the mega-trends on the horizon. The main issue is that industry has not engaged these new kids on the block - I’m talking about Gen Y and Z and now Gen A. And they’re not going to be able to do a piecemeal exercise, as they once did before, through CSR - as it doesn’t exist for this group and won’t work.
JUSTIN So your view is that if companies don’t take action in some ways, they won’t be able to hire the talent. And that will mean in terms of Gen Z and Gen A, they won’t be able to talk their language, they won’t even be relevant to them. And ultimately they won’t be able to sell to them.
RIOCH They’ll be irrelevant if they don’t authentically engage now with Gen Z. They’ll drop off the edge as Kodak did. This type of big shift is not a new phenomenon. The only difference is the tech enablement, and the speed of this shift. That’s what I think industry have yet to really fully understand. A good example is the massacre of retail on the High Street. The idea that ‘we’ve always done it this way', we can continue as if nothing has changed, is complete denial. You have our cohort of Gen X who are literally dying off. Unlike Gen X, industry is not going to be able to just go out there and bounce around and start to engage Gen Y, Gen Z and Gen A as you did previously, because they don’t want to do it that way. So industry have to do things differently. The idea of just bolting something on, like a Head of Diversity or yet another diversity initiative will not future proof you. I spoke to a FTSE100 company the other day and they said “Oh no, no, we’ve actually got a department for that” and at that moment I just knew they were nowhere where they needed to be. It’s the authenticity that comes from a purpose- driven model. Purpose = profit - it’s not something you can just bolt on. I’ve got four kids, and one of them engages across 19 different platforms and I’m saying, “Why, why 19?”, but she strongly identifies with all of the 19 because they’ve got a stance on animal cruelty. For her, it’s not a bolt-on piece, it’s everything that she engages with: they are stating and showing that they are not into animal cruelty. This has completely fed-into how she eats, buys her clothing from, makeup - the whole nine yards - which is a huge form of dedication. I don’t think I was that dedicated at her age. But she has set her agenda across these platforms. And that’s a shift that I haven’t really seen before now and this is what makes this new. I spoke to 40 executives the other day and I said to them “Are you ready for a new online audience of five billion?” and it was just complete silence in the room and then somebody said “Oh, but there’s only seven billion of us on the planet” and I said “I’m not talking about us individually, I’m talking about one person like my daughter across 19 different platforms”. And if you’re not engaging, following, listening to this cohort and how they’re doing things then it’s not that you are not in the game, it’s that you don’t even know that the game exists. I don’t share the same belief pool as my daughter but she’s very clear about what her belief pool is. And if I’m not tracking that and listening to what this cohort is saying, that’s the minute where I do a ‘Kodak’ myself because they are monetising it themselves, they’re building their own platforms. We’ve met our 14th multimillionaire Gen Z, and 2nd Gen A millionaire (Gen A is 0 to 10). I have actually sat down with a group of Gen Z’s and said to them - “I’ve not actually heard of you guys before and I haven’t seen you’?” and they said, “That’s quite deliberate. We don’t need you”. That’s the difference.
JUSTIN When you talk about your daughter and 19 platforms, do you think she represents a move away from well known brands to a more fragmented home-grown space that they are creating themselves?
RIOCH It’s an interesting aspect to what we’re finding when we’re out there because we do online deep-horizon scanning for clients. And so we’re tracking what’s happening organically on the Internet through community-based groups. And what we’re seeing is that these belief pools are very clear about what they want to do, how they want to do it, when they want to do it. And it isn’t what a lot of industry, glossy brochures and events that we attend think this new cohort want. We sit there in total disbelief saying “Guys are you actually out in these communities? Are you listening? Are you part of what’s going on because what we’re seeing and what you’re talking about - there is just no comparison, there are two absolutely utterly different worlds going on here.” For instance, how we recruit: we’re not using any of the traditional pathways. Our talent comes to us through all sorts of platforms , if it’s Snapchat - great, - 4Chan - fantastic, House Party - why not? We are recruiting where our cohorts are. We have to go out to them in different ways. Your average recruitment HR or recruitment agency isn’t operating in that way and that’s great for them as they’ve got the feeder universities and their feeder groups. That’s absolutely fine, but it’s not going to work. The new cohort that are already there, already building their own spaces, are just doing things differently. And if you’re not making sense in their space that’s great because they’ve got their own belief pool. We need to somehow make sure that industry and those communities are matching up and that’s where we come into our own.
JUSTIN So you go and find talent that hasn’t gone through formalised education and that cannot be found where traditional recruiters look?
RIOCH Qualified or unqualified it doesn’t matter - they’re not from the feeder universities, they’re not from the so-called ‘right’ postcodes, they’re not from friends of friends of friends and nepotism. What they are is talent. So when people talk around the complexity and how difficult it is to source talent it’s simply because they don’t look in the places that we look in. And understand this: Gen Y and Gen Z is already diverse. So in fact, although we use the label ‘diversity experts’ we don’t look for diversity, we look for talent, because who we’re dealing with are already diverse. So that’s one big shift I can tell you about straight away: The future is already here and it’s already diverse. So when people talk to us about “What unconscious bias training do you do? We don’t. “ What ethnicity do you target?” We don’t. “What is your age range?” We don’t have one. We start from a place of being human and listening. Industry has got to think about it completely differently. And if industry wants to bring us in as part of an HR initiative to learn about this but then revert to only tracking the traditional pipelines or traditional methods, we’ve always been upfront and said that we are not right for them because we are doing something completely different.
JUSTIN How long have you been building So You Wanna Be?
RIOCH We’ve built this up over 10 years. You can’t mimic what we and other community-based groups have done. It’s organic and transformational. The key thing is that we’ve had to build trust. You can’t build trust overnight. So we’re coming from a place of having built trust. We’re coming from a place of having listened to the community and in this case also listening to industry. How do we get it to engage and to come together in such a way that’s going to benefit both sides? Social mobility and remuneration for the community and profit and purpose for industry. This has been built up over time. So this isn’t something that I think you can do as a box ticking exercise. Industry is now coming back to us. It didn’t pay dividends right at the beginning. At the beginning, while we weren’t uniformly ‘laughed out of the room’, let’s just say that there were ‘tumble weed’ moments, and we were not welcomed with open arms because what we were saying was really odd. What we were talking about hadn’t happened yet and nobody really got the deal. Now bottom lines are shrinking and industry has got this massive talent- skills gap issue, and because they actually know they’re not diverse enough. They are the major reasons why we are now being brought back into the ‘room’. So it’s about building that trust and listening. We’ve had that time to work out what works and what doesn’t work. We have failed spectacularly. It’s been a great learning curve. We’ve made all those mistakes and now we’ve built a very formidable and robust model for industry.
JUSTIN So is there any specific way that you target the talent? Are you looking for talent that has been overlooked?
RIOCH Overlooked. Yes, overlooked. It’s always been the overlooked.
JUSTIN And it’s been overlooked because they don’t fit into the boxes that normal large corporations put talent into?
RIOCH Industry has mainly recruited from feeder universities or from friends of friends. And that’s the death knell for industry. If everybody looks the same and you only talk to the same people over time everything becomes stagnant. We’re doing it differently in the sense that we will go to youth offending teams, we will go to young people living on the streets or in social care, as much as we go to universities and not just the most popular ones. We go to colleges, schools, and we are now in primary schools as of autumn of this year. So what I’m saying is that the talent has always been there. Industry needs to come out of their ivory towers and need to actually engage with community-based groups like ours so that the community can start to register trust, so that they’ll want to join our sponsors companies.
JUSTIN So your methodology in some ways is finding a needle in a haystack? Do you train people to reach the kind of level where they can get jobs in the organisations?
RIOCH The talent is already there, so no needle in a haystack. Our methodology is going out in the community in a way that industry does not, engaging and building trust to realise the talent within. We raise sponsorship from industry to provide free training to ensure that our candidates are work ready, in return companies can access our diverse talent pipelines for entry level talent. We provide consultancy to engage talent from Junior level upwards to boardroom. For us it’s about social impact and social mobility. We have a five-stage programme free to the community. Industry sponsors our free training programme on one of two levels: 1. to access diverse talent, to help future proof their business or 2. To be seen as authentic champions of social impact , diversity and to gain access to our market insights through consultancy.
JUSTIN And now you’re about to go into the next phase of “So You Wanna Be In TV” because you’re taking investment and you’re building a platform?
RIOCH So we are sponsorship-led and then we thought, “How can we scale this as a not-for-profit?” Also, raise our visibility in successfully future proofing companies. So we are now looking for sponsors and non-equity Impact Investors, who want impact, legacy and share-holder value to allow us to scale. We’ve found a sponsor who is definitely going to be involved, and we’ve also found a sponsor for an app which will actually bring all of the strands together that we’ve been building over the years into one place. And then, we hope that we can find sponsors and impact investors which would allow us to be in Europe by 2020 and the US by 2022. We’ve also diversified into other industries. So we have: So You Want To be in Tech? So You Want To be in Creative? So You Want To be in AI? So You Wanna Be In Gaming? This year we want to look at “So You Want To be in AR/VR?”
JUSTIN Could you talk a little about your background, and how your journey started?
RIOCH I started in television and I would still be in television but for the fact that my son aged 13 was shot and stabbed while in school. He survived. The boy that attacked my son, (also aged13), told him that he did it because he hated him for having two parents at home. And that really was the catalyst for doing what I do now. It completely shattered our family and we fractured. The onslaught of what had taken place was indescribable, we just didn’t know how to deal with it. And I think had I focussed-in on what had taken place, we would not have survived it. It was about me trying to find a way forward for my son. But also, although I couldn’t justify this other boy’s actions, I was absolutely coming from the place of being a mum. There was something in that statement I could never ever be ready for and I come from quite tough background myself as does my husband. I just felt strongly that I should also try and reach out to young people who did not have someone there to guide them in the way that my son, my husband and I had. Was there something that I could do? And so that’s the story behind why I set up this social enterprise. To see over 4800 young people who have been through our program is amazing.
JUSTIN Where would you like to be in five years time?
RIOCH We’re a non-profit and we want to be fully sustainable within three years. We also want to have our own social impact V.C. fund so we can keep investing in the community to continue to help level the playing field. And most importantly we want to see a million diverse young people move from financial disadvantage into social mobility through employment in the communities we live in. That is our ultimate aim – getting the overlooked talent into employment so they themselves can help shape the future of our communities, drive growth and profit across London, the UK and beyond.