Episode 12: The Potential for What? Podcast with Mark Hudson

Diversity and talent development in the media industry with Mark Hudson – The Potential for What? Podcast

Welcome to The Potential For What? Podcast, where we explore the importance of diversity & talent development in the workplace. This week Mark Hudson, the Head of Early Talent at News UK joins Catherine Wilson (Senior Consultant of Let’s Talk Talent) to discuss how to approach talent development and diversity in an organisation.

Join us as we delve into a captivating conversation with Mark, discussing how he is actively working to unlock the potential in people from diverse backgrounds and improve representation in mainstream industries such as journalism.

Without further ado, let’s dive into this enlightening conversation with Mark Hudson on The Potential For What? Podcast.

In today’s episode, we talk about:

  • 🔓 Unlocking potential in minority individuals
  • 🎤 Attracting talent from underrepresented communities
  • 👍 The importance of a fair and transparent recruitment process
  • 🔝 How to approach talent development and diversity in your organisation
  • 👩‍💻 Outreach programmes, work experience opportunities, internships and apprenticeships

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Transcript of Episode 12: The Potential for What? Podcast with Mark Hudson

Jo Taylor 00:04
Welcome to the Potential For What podcast. On this podcast we explore how a range of business leaders unlock the potential in people. We’ll hear how they’ve done it, find out what’s worked, what hasn’t, and why this is so important in getting and keeping great people. Most businesses focus on the here and now: that is, all about performance. But at Let’s Talk Talent we like to think differently, as we fundamentally believe everyone has potential. The question is for what? So let’s explore that together. I’m your host, Jo Taylor, Managing Director of Let’s Talk Talent, a talent management and organisational development consultancy based in London, the UK. I have a request: if you value this show, if you enjoy these stories, or find this wisdom or inspiration useful, please subscribe to the Potential For What podcast to listen to future episodes.

Catherine Wilson 00:58
Mark, welcome. This is Mark Hudson, he is the Head of Early Talent at News UK, been in that job approximately two and a half years but has been at News for nearly 16 – started in 2007. I was there when you set up this programme and think what you have done is fabulous. And I wanted to give you the opportunity to tell our listeners about it, but also I think you’ve got loads for them to learn. As you know, this podcast is all about potential. And I think what you have done is looked at it in a very different way. You’ve introduced a fabulous programme to News UK, you’ve looked at potential from a different angle, and it would be great for you to tell us how you came up with that idea in the first place.

Mark Hudson 01:45
So before I go into it, brief background: was a journalist, TV producer, was making the stuff. The reason I got into that industry was I wanted to stand up for working class people. And I thought I would write stories on people’s behalves and their lives would be instantly improved with the swoop of my pen. So yeah, so I was doing that for a few years. And then now it’s like I should probably make good on this promise of doing stuff. And then I quickly realised, actually, it’s much better to bring people in with lived experience. I haven’t got a clue what a disabled person has gone through or a young Black lad in South London. So yeah, so I started mentoring, set up a little charity. And then they went “do you want to do this for a job?”, and I moved off the newsroom floor and into HR. And so there were a couple of things, particularly within journalism, within the media industry, that were particularly present. There were a few studies out and there was a lack of ethnic minority representation in newsrooms, too few women in newsrooms. And even then, where there were women, they were on the women’s sections, for example. And lots of difficulties for working class people breaking into the industry, and you know, not much visible disability and people that did have disabilities, not necessarily happy to talk about it. So I started to look at the pipeline. And in the job I’d been in just before this one, I was in advertising, I was a creative director. And my job was to sell products that people had never heard of, and they do this thing called the marketing funnel, which I apologise if this is really patronising to your listeners, but the way they get you to buy a Twix is they take you through this funnel, right? So at the top, they do a big advert on TV, to a million people, saying “Twixes are great”, and that just raises awareness of Twixes. And then – I don’t know why I’m picking on Twix – or, you know, whatever you’re buying: a car, a Twix, whatever it is. But that’s the awareness stage. Then, about 1% of that million people that you hit might actually go and buy a Twix. So now you’re in a consideration phase, and you start to give a few more reasons as to why people might break in – might buy a Twix. So “Twixes fill you up”. And this, that and the other – you start to give them reasons why they might buy, and then maybe 10% of that middle pool that you’ve got, will actually go on, and then you hit him with a hard message, which is “Buy a Twix!”. And I was like, well, what if we took that approach to encouraging people into jobs in journalism in a sector they’ve never really thought about? So that’s what we’re doing at the minute. So we do lots of outreach and work experience programmes to warm them up as they go through the pool; we’re developing a work experience website. And then at the end, in the closing stage, we have some really real opportunities. We have internships, which are six months paid work experience, which we were able to launch through the government’s Kickstart scheme and have continued to fund now. And then we have apprenticeships which are two year fixed term contracts include 20% of their time they’re studying towards an industry-wide qualification. And we’ve got to hire a couple more this year, but I think we’ve got 70 apprentices that we’ve launched, and that’s going really well and lots of people from backgrounds that wouldn’t otherwise have come into our newsrooms are coming into our newsrooms.

Catherine Wilson 05:15
I think it’s fascinating because actually, when I was at News, you know, it was one of those professions that perhaps wasn’t attracting a huge diversity of people. And I think it’s brilliant that you’ve taken that marketing funnel and applied it to try and get the attraction. I think the benefits probably speak for themselves, although it might be worth you talking through the benefits to the business, and also how you convinced the business to buy into this programme.

Mark Hudson 05:41
Yeah, I think the benefits are really, really crucial to this. Because when we first started as well, you know, News UK had actually been doing a bit of diversity work before the huge spike in interest in this, in the wake of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter a couple of years ago, when everyone sort of got off their backsides. There had been a lot of work done before internally. And so when our team was formed– I’m one third of our diversity team, I’ve got my colleague Shelley Bishton who focuses on the content, and Alya Lilani focuses on the leadership. And we’re headed up by our boss Briony. But when we were going into this, we were really clear that our work benefits the business in its aims, because I think that had we positioned this as some sort of altruistic act or something that everyone should do, because it’s the thing at the time, then when it comes to a cost of living recession, it quickly gets chopped, and actually, what we’re doing does point towards the business goals. And this was a case made really quickly. So if you look at any media organisation, if you strip it right back, it does two things, right, it builds audiences by making great content, and then it monetises those audiences through advertising. And so if we have newsrooms that are reflective of British society, we will create better stories, we will build new audiences that we don’t currently reach. And that will have appeal to advertisers – like Twix, I don’t know – I’m not sponsored by Twix, I don’t know why I keep bringing up Twix – but advertisers want to know that their products are getting in front of lots of different people. And so at a very baseline, those are the benefits. And I think it’s quite easy for people to get that in our industry in journalism and media, because our product is interesting ideas. And so bringing people in with different lived experiences, once you teach them and train them up and get them up to a good level, they’re going to bring you an endless stream of interesting ideas and perspectives that add into a really good mix, and make their boss look really good in front of their boss. That was how we went about it. But we’re quite lucky. Our CEO, Rebecca, she started at the very bottom rung of the ladder, has worked her way up, as have many people on our Exec. So I think from that level down, they appreciate the value of doing this work, and we’ve been lucky to have that backing. Yeah, it’s been pushing at open doors really. I shouldn’t say that should I, because mid-year PDR’s coming up; I should say how difficult it is and how hard I’ve worked.

Catherine Wilson 08:21
Yeah, what an amazing job you’ve done. Brilliant. Thank you. I kind of understand the marketing funnel approach. I think when we talked before, you mentioned that actually, there were whole groups of people who perhaps hadn’t even considered journalism as a career. And it’d be interesting to hear how you reached those groups and how you enticed them into journalism?

Mark Hudson 08:48
I think we’re only just starting to scratch the surface of that as well. We’re definitely not “mission accomplished” at the minute, but if you look at the data, so we, for journalism, in particular, there is an industry training body and the National Council of Training Journalists, the NCTJ. That’s the qualification that most journalists get. And they’re really, really good. And they also do surveys and look at the state of the pipeline that’s coming in, and this, that and the other. And there are a few interesting things that leapt out. One is that for journalism and media courses, we are underrepresented within South Asian communities. So they only make up about 4% of journalism and media courses. And we’d normally expect them to make up around 10%. And the other interesting aspect was within the Black community: they actually over-index on their national number. There’s 8% of media students come from Black backgrounds, but only 8% of that 8% actually make it into the industry. So within those small communities, they’re not small communities, but within those communities, there were two things that we needed to address: one with the South Asian community, we need to go in, sell our career. Say this is a place that we want your brilliant mind. And so we’ve made a series of partnerships with community leaders and education providers and stuff like that to go in. And it’s quite an easy career to sell, right? Journalism’s quite a sexy industry. You know, we use this tagline that I got told on my first day in a newsroom, which was: congratulations, you’ve got a front row ticket to the world. Because that’s what you get to do. You just get to go and meet people and do stuff. So that’s how we’re addressing that community. And within the Black community, it’s more about giving them much more useful advice, opportunities, working with organisations like the Black Collective of Media and Sport. We worked with the Raheem Sterling Foundation to make sure that we’re getting into those communities and having those endorsements from those community leaders just help us become a destination where people are “okay, they obviously want me, maybe we should work there”. I think as well, that is the value for us in outreach. I think quite often outreach can just be someone goes to a school, does a talk, where does it fit in, is this a pointless waste of a volunteer day? And work experience quickly becomes irrelevant. It’s a really, really useful tool. And so we’re just starting to work with disability groups now because the talent, absolutely, there – there’s no question the talents there, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. The confidence in: “is this an industry that will accommodate me, make those adjustments, it can be flexible so that I can feel comfortable, and show myself” is a big issue, and also having those role models within the industry to look up to. So that’s a big issue, I think disability is perhaps one of the pillars of diversity that’s been left behind a little bit or been left to last. And so whereas I’ve got these community groups that are already active, and have started off their own back, within disability and journalism, there wasn’t anything. So we started one. We started the Disability Journalism Forum. And so we pulled together as many disabled journalists as we possibly could, created this amazing conference last March, brought together 200 people which for a brand new conference we were absolutely buzzing about. And there’s been so many connections since; lots of people, lots of young people, found jobs. And it’s an independent group, you know, luckily, News UK funded the first one and are happy to continue funding it. But it’s cross-industry. So we have the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 – loads of my peers from across Fleet Street. So now we’ve started that group. So you need those groups in order to encourage people from those backgrounds to come into your industry.

Catherine Wilson 12:53
I think what you’ve done is fantastic. I think our HR listeners will really resonate with the fact that you have identified the talent that you want and tailored the message to that. I think you’ve taken it to another level with your early talent piece, thinking about the communities you want to entice, thinking about the groups of people, and where perhaps you’re not attracting them going out with role models, going out and building communities. I just think that’s fabulous. And I think there’s loads of learnings that can be taken from that. I think one of the things that I often think about when I think about attracting talent, and especially new communities, is how do you make sure that you are identifying the right potential, but also being really kind of fair and transparent and having a really open recruitment process? So thinking about the unconscious bias piece that might seep in, and I know you did some work around making sure that you were bringing just pure talent in and there wasn’t anything else clouding those decisions, it might be good to talk about that.

Mark Hudson 14:03
Thank you for all those lovely things you said as well. Coming from you, that really means a lot. So thank you. I’m pretty sure this is the bit you taught me. I think I’m about to mansplain what you taught me back. Because when I came in you and our colleague Laura talked to me about a strengths-based approach. And I think you’d already been running some stuff that I just copied your homework on. But this is something that we have done in the recruitment of apprentices that has really, really helped. It really, really helps us to get the kind of talent that we need to see. Now coming from a kind of company that has The Sun and Talk TV and this, that and the other, it’s really important that we don’t do anything that jars with some of the content that’s going out there. And I think that those kinds of titles, don’t mind- you know, see the benefit of diversity. And the teams themselves want diversity in there. But I think there’s always a suspicion that you’re almost skewing things in people’s favour when you do stuff like this. Whereas actually, with a strengths-based approach, all you’re doing is stripping out the sort of normal interview thing, stripping out as much of the unconscious bias as you can, and making it a really fair process. So we ask for CV and cover letters, but we don’t really look at them in the first stage. What we do do is ask three questions connected with the job. And while I’m talking mostly about journalism and media jobs, we obviously have HR apprenticeships and marketing apprenticeships and all this – we do the same process for all of it. So we ask those questions and the teams themselves score those questions, then the top scorers go through to a telephone interview where my team and managers telephone interview goes into more strengths that are related to the job. And then last thing is an assessment centre, where yes, there’s an interview as part of it, that’s when we might start to look at CVs. But crucially, there’s a group task and an individual task. And we nick loads of assessors from that team for an entire day, which they normally moan about before, and then they do it and they say: “oh, what a fun, amazing day that was”. And it all gets a little bit X Factor-y at the end as you look at the final scoreboard and everyone makes their decisions. And I think that’s important for two reasons. One is that the unconscious bias thing that we talked about, because you have hard data to say, well, this person was the top performer on the day, so we should give them the job. And the other thing is, so that the teams are really invested in the person they pick, they’re more likely to succeed- if I was just to like, foist this youngster on them, then they don’t- their manager doesn’t really need to cover their own backside. It doesn’t matter if they succeed or fail, because HR chose the wrong person, and they’re a bunch of idiots and what have you. But when it’s their decision, they’re much more engaged, they’re much more likely to help that young person succeed. And so the grand sum of all of that work is that we’ve managed to get, so I think 70% of our apprentices are female, 66% have come from ethnic minority backgrounds, and lots more – we haven’t quite worked out how to quantify class yet, and socio economic stuff – but lots more come from working class backgrounds. We need to do a bit better on disability. But we are definitely starting to see positive movements in that. So yeah, that’s how we go about it. And then crucially, going about that as well means that when that apprentice starts, we’re able to say: we have high hopes for you, and we want you to be a voice of the future, and we want you to bring all of your lived experience into your job when you learn the ropes. But you’re not here because you’re a diversity hire. You are here because you were the best candidate. And when we say that you can literally see their chests puff up, because they suddenly feel like: oh, maybe I am talented. I think if we didn’t do that, there’d always be this question mark about: did I only get the job because I’m this or that? And they’re not – they’re the best person for that job. So that seems to be working really well. And the talent we’re finding by doing it is unbelievable. So thank you for making me look good. And teaching me how to do that. It’s very much appreciated.

Catherine Wilson 18:36
Total pleasure, Mark. I think it is that piece about untapped talent, isn’t it? Untapped potential, that there’s whole pools of people out there that wouldn’t have thought to apply for a role. And actually everyone benefits from you doing your outreach piece and encouraging them to come and work for you. You’ve talked about managers and getting their buy-in, involving them in the application and assessment process, which I think is fundamental. But you’ve also done some more work as well, I think, around ensuring that they help those apprentices in the roles and make sure that they feel comfortable that they can reach that potential. Because I think it’s quite hard sometimes to bring potential in. The expectation level, sometimes they’re a little bit different between the new person coming in who perhaps has never even worked in a role before, and the manager and what they want. I know you’ve done a little bit of work around that. So could you talk about that?

Mark Hudson 19:36
Yeah, I think it’s something that’s quite often overlooked, I think in a diversity conversation, is that manager and the teams – because it’s terrifying sometimes that you suddenly get this person foisted onto you. You might not have had any experience in that and I think that we’ve done a lot of training internally we’ve done things, like many companies, like unconscious bias and allyship and all that. And all that stuff is great; I think we’ve had over 1,000 members of staff go through that training. But ultimately, these sort of, you know, issues arise at first around really weird things. I don’t think any training thing can necessarily prepare you for. I remember one example where someone was just really… it was really jarring that one of our apprentices was wearing a hat in work. And I get it because no one’s ever worn a hat because we’ve never worn someone who wants to wear a hat at work. And I could have gone in and just said, shut up you knob, it’s a hat, just get over yourself, right? And inside, that’s what I wanted to say. But I was like, okay, I’m gonna, I’m just gonna entertain this, and I just sat down. And you just realise that actually that person is just like, really, really scared that they’re gonna say the wrong thing, and get cancelled and lose their job. And they have a mortgage to pay and this, that, and the other and it’s really scary. And so it’s not about the hat. They’re just scared. And they just need to know that it’s okay to make mistakes. And I think that that’s probably one of the cultures that we maybe haven’t actually acknowledged internally, that we have got this culture that it’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to talk and to learn, and to say the wrong thing sometimes, but learn from it and don’t do it again. You know, I think that’s a problem that I think our Britishness is probably a big problem there. I think we’re like, almost paralysed by politeness. And so quite often say nothing. And we don’t invite the person out for drinks, because we don’t know or we don’t do that thing. And then they get left out, and they get isolated, and they don’t get that development and stuff like that. And so perhaps having someone as inept as me in a diversity job has just made everyone feel relaxed, like: “oh, if that guy can do diversity, maybe I can”. I’m joking, but –

Catherine Wilson 22:03
Don’t put yourself down. Yeah, I mean, I think there’s something about fit there as well, isn’t there, in the sense of we all, we quite often look for recruits who might fit the culture and you know that quite often you find line managers are looking for someone similar to one of their top performers. But when we think about potential, I think it’s really important to challenge some of that. And it makes me think it’s about helping managers see the potential and not necessarily making sure that that apprentice conforms to their way of doing things. Like actually, when you talk about early talent, there are some things that they might not know about the workplace, because they’ve never worked in a workplace before. But also, they might help think about doing things slightly differently. And it doesn’t always have to be the way it’s been done before. And I think there’s some piece about helping that apprentice and that manager find the right way to work together. But it’s not just one or the other, does that make sense?

Mark Hudson 23:04
You’ve hit the absolute nail on the head, because quite often now managers are finding that it’s energising – like Gen Z have a low tolerance for bureaucracy, and really, really annoying ways of doing things. So they go looking for technological ways we can do things, and this, that and the other, and they just sort of challenge stuff as well, like. You know, when I think about how seriously mental health is taken now, when I started in Fleet Street, you know, it was sort of scoffed at and stuff like that, and actually lots of our new workers are like: “actually, I’m not okay with that”. And there are a couple of really good analogies in the Disability Journalism Forum that that came up. I think, when you hire, when you take a risk on people that sit outside the norm, and they ask for adjustments… the first one was about making adjustments, particularly in our industry, right? If we needed to get a camel to Qatar in an England shirt, because someone on The Sun had had an idea for a picture, like we’d make that happen. We do things on TV all the time that are just absolutely ridiculous. And so if someone just needs to come in between 8 and 10am, we can do these adjustments, these adjustments are possible. We just always are used to working in particular way. So we’re like: no, couldn’t possibly be done. And you’re like: oh no, actually, we can do it. And so they’ve helped us to develop much more flexible working.

Catherine Wilson 24:30
Mark, thank you for talking through the programme that you’ve done. It is amazing what you’ve achieved. Any advice you would give anyone who’s thinking about reaching out or creating an early talent programme?

Mark Hudson 24:45
I would suggest: do it, obviously – he says, trying to keep his career going for the next 15 years. Just do it. What advice would I give someone who’s thinking about an early talent programme? Obviously, do it. I think a strengths-based approach is really, really handy. And also frame apprenticeships as an opportunity for someone to make mistakes. Like it’s a two year permission slip to just learn and make mistakes, is really, really good. But the main thing I think we need to do is to go into community- I think we assume that people know that jobs exist. And careers advice can be really hit or miss at schools. It’s a really, really underfunded area. And actually, it’s our responsibility within the industry to get in front, go out, get off our backsides and go to where those youngsters are, and get them excited about the job that we do. I think we’re just, we’re so used to people just coming to us. And I don’t think that’s going to keep happening forever. I think Gen Z have got real entrepreneurial spirit, whatever the generation that comes after them, Generation alpha, I think, will be even more so. We can’t just sit on our laurels and expect great talent to come and find us, we have to go out and find it. And when you do do that, just remember that kids, they don’t want to hear you talk about your job, your job’s really boring. And you talk really boring, like, we are boring. We’re adults, like get over it. So if you do something like really hands on, let them play with it and do it and you know, get practical stuff and get them excited. Like you used to be excited before we all became cynical, or maybe that’s just me. Maybe you’ll feel excited.

Catherine Wilson 26:37
Always. Brilliant. Thank you so much. Two questions, we always ask our podcasters. The first one is: what was the proudest moment of your career, so far?

Mark Hudson 26:50
The proudest moment of my career – it was actually this Christmas. I’ve got a real problem with taking lovely compliments and absorbing them. And I’m trying to use one of my New Year’s resolutions this year, which is why I acknowledged when you said some really lovely stuff this year, it’s still a bit jarring, because I’m like, urrrrr, and you know, so I’m doing this job and everyone’s like: oh, it’s an amazing, lovely job that you’re doing. But I’m like: la la la la I don’t want to hear it, I will listen at the end. And this Christmas, I got a few messages from some of my apprentices on Christmas Day. And they didn’t have to. And I just thought how amazing that on this lovely day when you’re thinking about the people you care about, that I was on that list of some of them. And it was first time I started to think maybe I am having a lovely little positive influence in some people’s lives. And it was a really lovely moment to receive.

Catherine Wilson 27:52
That’s a fantastic story. And amazing that the fact that you are making a difference in people’s lives has been acknowledged. So that’s fantastic. And then my final question is: what’s your favourite podcast or book that you might recommend out to our listeners?

Mark Hudson 28:09
There’s a chapter in a book that I reckon I quote probably once a fortnight, to my apprentices because it changed my attitude towards work and my life. It’s called Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. I think Malcolm Gladwell’s all right, isn’t he? Like, I don’t know, there’s some debate about… anyway, I’m not going to slag off Malcolm Gladwell and get this podcast sued. But some people like it, and some people don’t. But he does this book, Outliers. And each chapter is a different chapter about why people are successful. And it’s really, it’s kind of like Freakonomics, it’s really interesting. And he does one like, where he coins the 10,000 hour rule where it’s like, if you do anything for 10,000 hours, you’ll be world class at it. But there was this particular chapter on class that really spoke to me, and I always talk to my apprentices about it, because I want them to pick themselves up and thrive in this sort of like, middle class dominated corporate environment. And so in it, he’s talking about class, and he uses this example where he spoke to loads of kids in America, and aged 11 they have a medical. And he picks up two examples. One working class kid, one middle class kid, and the middle class kid is on the way to the doctors. And his mom’s like, you know, is there anything you want to talk to the doctor about? And he’s like, oh, I’ve got this thing under my arm. Whereas the working class kid is on the way to the doctors and just told: shut up, just do what the doctor says don’t cause any trouble. And that really spoke to me because at the time I was watching all of these talentless hacks just get promoted above me. And I was like: why aren’t I getting promoted, I’m doing really good work, and no one’s noticing me and this, that, and the other. And he says, in that example, that medical, the middle class kid is taught you can challenge authority, and you can ask- your opinion matters in that room. Whereas the working class kid is just taught, you know: obey, don’t cause too much trouble. And that really spoke to me because when I was at school, I never put my hand up because I didn’t want anyone to look bad if I knew the answer and stuff like that. And so after reading that I started to ask senior managers for coffees and my career started to move in the direction that I wanted it to. So for me, that was a really good book to read. And it really helped me, that particular chapter.

Catherine Wilson 30:24
Mark, thank you for a wonderful podcast. If our listeners want to get hold of you or find you, I believe you’re on LinkedIn, are you okay that they reach out and try and connect?

Mark Hudson 30:36
Yes, yes, please. And you will receive a reply between one and 700 working days because I do check, no, I do check it. I will reply. But LinkedIn is the only place that I’ve got really, unless on Instagram, unless you want to see about a million pictures of my kids. And that’s all I do on social media, really. So yeah, LinkedIn is if you want to have a conversation, please do. They’re not strangers, they’re just friends I haven’t met yet.

Catherine Wilson 31:02
Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time Mark. Really appreciate it. It’s been great listening to you.

Mark Hudson 31:08
Thank you for having me.

Jo Taylor 31:44
Thanks for listening to the Potential For What podcast. If you’re hearing this message, you’ve listened to our new episode all the way to the end, and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. We hope you enjoyed this episode, and if you did, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Please share this episode with others who may be interested in this topic. As always, you can head over to letstalktalent.co.uk/podcasts to check out all the links and resources in the show notes and to sign up to our email list.