In the IBC Changemaker podcast bonus episode, Jabbar Sardar, global HR director for BBC Studios, speaks to Sarah Burbedge about influencing inclusivity on a mass organisation scale, and why he has ‘the best people job in the world.’

The conversation: Putting People First, was recorded live in Amsterdam at IBC2023, as part of IBC’s Changemaker programme, shining a spotlight on People and Purpose.

Listen to the IBC Changemaker Podcast Series here

In his role, Sardar is responsible for leading the global wellbeing, culture, D&I and leadership strategy across BBC Studios, a role which demands the organisation to put their people first.

He explains that BBC Studios is “built on culture of inclusion and respect,” and in answering the key question, ‘what comes first - strategy, or culture and inclusion?’ he says, “I’ve always woken up over the last 20 years, in Senior HR roles, and my mantra is: ‘culture and inclusion eats strategy for breakfast,’” affirming that this commitment needs to be modelled from the top.

In such a huge broadcasting house, an organisation responsible for 6,000 people – 3,500 employed staff and 2,500 freelancers every day, across 19 countries and 28 cities around the world – executing inclusion is a huge operation, one that Sardar is tenaciously committed to achieving.

“It’s part of my DNA, it’s who I am…I’ve had lots of barriers put in front of me in my career…I feel really proud of being 1% of making that organisation,” he announces.

Off-Camera Strategy Makes On-Screen Magic

“People make the culture,” declares Sardar, echoing the content industry’s key message that has been hot topic in recent years: without diverse and inclusive minds behind the scenes, there is no diverse and inclusive content, to the authentic audience.

Jabbar Sardar IBC Changemakers LinkedIn. 3x2

IBC Changemaker podcast: Bonus Episode 9

“We tell stories to the wider world,” he adds, noting that to make that on-screen magic, you need to be aware of what is happening off-screen too. The only way to do this is to have the “right people doing the right things, but also the organisation forming in the right way.”

He emphasises that everyone has a story and especially in an organisation where stories are at its heart, it’s important to “unleash creativity.” Everyone should ask themselves: “What difference can I make today?” followed by making sure that difference is fulfilled to the fullest potential.

Starting with a Purpose

“Employee experience is central to us,” Sardar reveals, suggesting that starting with a purpose is what drives the strategy for inclusion, as well as employing the right people who align with that purpose. The well-known mission for the BBC is to inform, educate and entertain, feeding impartial news to wide audiences. To ensure that people are learning, and the content is changing the world, Sardar emphasises that it must start with the recruitment process.

“It’s about Pride. To recruit a team… who have their own unique story – but part of bigger picture.” He highlights the importance of supporting staff on their journey to secure the kind of people who come back. “The data says it all, 85% are really proud to work for BBC Studios. In our industry we are in the top two or three.”

‘The Boy from Bradford’

When asked what drives him to put people first and make that change, Sardar talks of his own personal story. After being in an accident, which put him out of work for five months, he became hyper aware of the imposter syndrome felt when readapting into the workplace, and he slowly realised it was a feeling shared amongst his colleagues.

“I had a crisis of confidence after 5 months off, I felt behind everyone,” he continues, talking about the imposter syndrome he already felt as the “boy from north of England, from a working class family,” adding that the accident added more stimuli to that feeling. But after sharing his experience he understood that others had felt the same way coming back to work after a break – from injuries, from maternity leave, and so on. The experience inspired him to create a returners package policy, to “make sure in those first 12 weeks of coming back, (employees) have a mentor, they have the support, and they’re asked: ‘what else do you need?’”

Staff Empowerment

Increasing inclusivity and diversifying content is “about empowering people to do their job,” Sardar insists. In the midst of the pandemic, in March 2023, BBC Studios launched their Putting People First strategy. It was a three-year plan, but within six months, he and his team had already delivered two years of the plan – making Sardar realise how much it was needed.

He goes on to talk about the identity that everyone has in work and in their life outside work, which after the pandemic “is blurring.” As he points out: “It’s important for organisations to tap into that because (you want people to feel) inspired, proud, supported and therefore thrive…” He also talks about the necessity of belonging, so that everyone can build their own personal story, be well led with great leaders. “Little did we know we’d have to put that to test and accelerate that plan.”

As a result, 88% of staff have said their manager genuinely cares for their wellbeing. “These numbers mean were building from a strong base.”

It has taught Sardar that since 2020, “organisations are going to have to work much harder to make sure they are bringing in people who are aligned with their purpose.”

All Voices Count

Sardar concludes with where he began, that it all starts with what he brings to his job every day: “That we are supporting people, we are understanding authenticity, we are truly inclusive, we’re hearing the world’s stories, we’re encouraging those stories in the organisation. Because those stories in the organisation are what create the on-screen magic, because we’re then able to tell the best stories to the world.”

Listen to the IBC Changemaker Podcast Series here.