Woman sues BBC as white interview panel 'laughed at her Indian accent'
9th November 2021

EXCLUSIVE: BBC World Service producer is suing corporation for racial discrimination ‘after she was turned down for new job by an all-white interview panel who laughed at her Indian accent’

  • Malika Keswani said her accent was ‘laughed at’ by an all-white interview panel 
  • She ‘hired an accent coach’ after the rejection and became more anxious at work
  • Former World Service producer had applied for new role in Salford, Manchester
  • She claims she should have been given the job under the Equality Act 2010 

An ex-BBC production manager claims she was racially discriminated against when applying for a new job at the corporation by bosses who ‘laughed’ at her accent. 

Malika Keswani alleges an all-white panel ‘subtly laughed’ at her Indian accent while trying to contain their amusement during an interview for a BBC Sport production manager job in Salford, Greater Manchester.

Even though she described her accent as ‘soft’, the production boss believes the broadcaster was racially biased and is seeking a pay-out from her former employers at a London tribunal. 

She claims she later hired an ‘accent coach’ in the wake of the rejection, and became ‘increasingly anxious and overwhelmed at work’.  

Keswani, who was working for the BBC’s Persian service at the time, said she should have been given the job under the Equality Act 2010 but was unfairly marked down during her interview. 

Had she been ‘scored fairly’, she would have been ranked as an equal to second-placed candidates, meaning the BBC would have to give her the job under equality law as she is non-white, she said.

Keswani, who also chairs the diversity action group at The Production Guild, argued the ‘soft skills’ section of her interview put her at a disadvantage and claims it was racist.

Ex-BBC employee Malika Keswani claims an all-white panel ‘subtly laughed’ at her Indian accent while she interviewed for a production manager role in Salford, Greater Manchester

Keswani claims she later hired an ‘accent coach’ in the wake of the rejection, and became ‘increasingly anxious and overwhelmed at work’

She said a white woman eventually filled the vacant post, and that BBC policy meant one interview panel member should have been from an ethnic minority.  

Central London Employment Tribunal heard this week Ms Keswani applied for a job as a production manager for the company’s news and current affairs department, which makes flagship programmes such as Newsnight and Panorama, in March 2019. 

She did not get the job and was ‘disappointed’, but soon secured a position with the Persian Service – part of the broadcaster’s World Service – two months later. 

But she quickly became disillusioned and repeatedly asked colleagues about opportunities in other areas, including news and current affairs.

Keswani, who was working for the BBC’s Persian service at the time, said she should have been given the job under the Equality Act 2010 but was unfairly marked down during her interview. Pictured: BBC Broadcasting House, London

Keswani said she felt ‘pigeon holed’ into the World Service as that was where her ‘face fits’, and said bosses did not give her any career development support because they were worried no one had the skills to replace her in her existing job.

She was passed over for other jobs at the broadcaster’s Arabic service, Africa service and Panorama during the second half of 2019, and on the first day of lockdown in 2020, she even asked to cover for colleagues in current affairs who got ill with coronavirus or had to isolate.

Her line manager was said to have been particularly hostile to any move and claimed she was never offered mentoring despite repeated requests.

Ms Keswani said: ‘I was concerned they wanted to keep me in the World Service to meet diversity targets.

‘I kept being asked to interviews so the BBC could meet its requirement to interview a diverse candidate.

‘My grievance reflected my own experiences and the biased and unfair recruitment process I was subject to, but also highlighted wider diversity issues across the BBC.’ 

In February 2020, she applied for a role at BBC Sport and alleges she was marked unfairly by interviewers. She said a white woman eventually got the job.

The interview panel, which consisted of BBC Sport heads of production Debbie Dubois and Rachel Wright and lead talent manager Mel Adams changed her scores when they gave her interview feedback, she claimed. 

Dubois, Adams and Wright all said they never mocked Ms Keswani’s accent and that she was not marked down unfairly.

All three also deny company rules state panels always have to have a BAME person on them.

They said the fact her presentation overran by 20 minutes was the key reason she did not get the job.

At the height of the first lockdown in April 2020, Keswani filed a grievance about the interview for the job at BBC Sport and claims she was ‘victimised’ from then until she left the corporation in October 2020.

She claims her failure to secure the Salford job triggered a bout of anxiety, which she kept under control.

She had to go to A&E with a panic attack last April and went on sick leave two months later because her anxiety worsened. 

‘My anxiety was precipitated by the conduct of the BBC and the treatment offered to me thereafter,’ Keswani explained.

‘The BBC’s failure to make reasonable adjustments only exacerbated my anxiety and my anxiety disorder was diagnosed as PTSD in October 2020.

‘The impact on my health was unbearable at the BBC and I had come to the role with the hope of making a difference.

‘I had been under the impression the BBC was an equal opportunities employer, but I had faced nothing but barriers and suppression.

‘My resignation made it clear that I considered I had been discriminated against as a result of being a BAME employee and the BBC was failing in its efforts to be inclusive.’

The BBC denies her claims and the tribunal continues.  

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