Diversity does not simply happen, it takes time and effort for organisations to break down barriers that people may not even be aware are there, and enable people from all walks of life to have the same chance of success. Similarly, those in the minority must take charge of their careers and make sure they build the networks and contacts they need to succeed.
My career has benefited from the BBC's work to tackle diversity. I was taken onto the graduate scheme at a time when the BBC was making conscious efforts to widen its talent pool beyond the male Oxbridge candidates that had typically dominated the field. I was one of five women to be successful in that year's intake and eventually became the first female controller of BBC One. One of the others was Jana Bennett, who also rose to the top of the corporation as director of vision, responsible for all the BBC's channels and in-house production.
The BBC's work in diversity has been critical to the advancement of women in the industry but it has been no quick fix. It takes time for people to come through the ranks so it has to be a long-term strategy. It took at least 15 years for a significant number of women to make their presence felt in senior management in the BBC. And this was not done with positive discrimination, which I do not believe serves anyone well. It was done by making sure the right training was in place and that women were actively encouraged to progress their careers and apply for more demanding roles.
It often seems to be the public sector that leads the way in this field. The BBC recognised the importance of having a varied workforce, especially as it's so important for the organisation to be representative of the viewers and listeners it serves to ensure that its programming has a wide breadth of appeal. And of course a diverse workforce does not simply mean having a mix of men and women, but a mix of people from different classes, cultures and backgrounds.
All too often, it's the person who holds themselves back rather than the organisation they work for. I strongly believe in pushing myself to do things outside my comfort zone. People often stop themselves from trying something new for all sorts of reasons. In my experience, women often look at the reasons why they are not yet ready for something and hold themselves back. The way I look at it is that someone has got to be the first, so why wait to go for it? Nobody's ever completely ready for a new job.
I had worked my way up to being a producer of Panorama when the Ministry of Defence gave permission for one of our crews to fly to the Falkland Islands and cover the impact of the war. I was desperate to do the story, and pushed to be allowed to go despite the fact that at that stage I had not produced anything longer than three minutes and the editor wanted a 50 minute programme. The MoD didn't believe that it would appropriate for a woman to be on the crew, but I persuaded them I was up to the job. After flying from Ascension Island to the Falklands on a Hercules with 300 men, when the only toilet was in the middle of the cabin surrounded by a flimsy curtain, I never looked back!
I have never felt discriminated against during my career, however during my 30 years (and counting) in the industry I have discovered that sometimes just because of the way things happen to be done, people can be disadvantaged. On one of the programmes I once worked on, a large number of the men used to get together on Friday and play in the football team. By the time it got to Monday morning the plum assignments had been given out at football. Realising this – and having no interest in playing football myself – I made it my mission to see my editor every Friday morning and make him aware of what stories I was interested in to ensure my voice was heard too.
If you have a family and a demanding job, it can be difficult to find the time to join in things that happen outside the working day but being part of a club or network is something women need to get serious about. Networks aren't just a "nice to have". They offer support – critical no matter what level you're at – and they also make business sense. I'm a member of the everywomanClub and I'm already feeling the benefits of how meeting peers can inspire new ways of thinking, connect me to new people and help to make things happen.
Lorraine Heggessey became the first female controller of BBC One in 2000 and became the first female CEO of a major independent production company when she joined Talkback Thames in 2005. She now runs her own company and is a motivational speaker.
In partnership with Guardian Careers, originally published: http://careers.guardian.co.uk/careers-blog/graduate-scheme-female-controller-bbc