'Woke thing' | Ex-BBC presenter suggests he was dismissed for being '65, white and male'

Ex-BBC presenter suggests he was dismissed for being '65, white and male'

A former BBC presenter has accused the broadcaster of removing him from his role because he was a middle-aged white man.

Mark Lawrenson, a former professional footballer, spent 30 years as a sports pundit for the BBC, appearing on the channel’s Football Focus show for 25 of those years, before leaving in March 2022.

In a recent interview with the Sunday Times, the decorated former Liverpool FC defender inferred that the BBC’s decision not to renew his contract was due to his age, race and gender.

He told the national newspaper: "The Beeb are probably the worst at giving you bad news.

"It was just, ‘We are going on the road next season with Focus. We don’t think it is really something for you.’”

"I just wish they had said to me at the start of my contract last year, ‘You’ve had a great run, thanks very much and you are not working next season’.”

When asked what he thought was the reason behind his exit, Lawrenson added: "Well, I’m 65 and a white male, so you know..."

Lawrenson went on to criticise the BBC over what he deemed ‘wokeness’, while also describing himself as ‘anti-woke’ in the same interview.

He said: "In all my time at the BBC, nobody ever said you can’t say this or that, but the woke thing drives me bonkers.

"Whereas normally you would say the first thing that comes into your head, you’re now thinking, 'If I say that will I get into trouble?'

"It was a bit like playing with your legs tied together.

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"The BBC is the national broadcaster and I get that, but they are frightened to death of upsetting anybody.”

Despite his thoughts on gender playing a role in his exit from the BBC, Lawrenson did, also express his support for now ex-colleague Alex Scott, a former professional footballer who, in recent years, has suffered racist and sexist abuse as a result of being a female pundit debating the mens’ game.

‘Prevention is key’

Whether Lawrenson’s claims of gender and age discrimination are true or false, accusations like this are a serious matter for HR.

Vicky Johnson, Senior HR Consultant and Team Leader at WorkNest, told HR Grapevine: “If an employee accuses your company of making such a decision, then it’s crucial to remember that HR must take all claims seriously. In addition, they must use clear and transparent processes to address and resolve such allegations. Ultimately, all current and former employees must be aware of their options for bringing matters to their attention.

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“When dealing with accusations, HR must investigate the allegations to establish facts and determine whether there is any truth behind them, even if it was unintentional or the consequence of unconscious bias. They must also understand the processes for communicating decisions, particularly around dismissal. In this case, it appears that the ‘dismissal’ was not formalised by proper process and could be deemed unfair, regardless of the reasons for the decision.”

Johnson concluded: “Prevention is key – so look at policies, processes and ED&I impact assessments to understand and rectify any underlying issues. Training all staff and managers around ED&I and unconscious bias is beneficial to preserve the organisation’s reputation – allegations like these can be unnecessarily damaging.”

What the data says

According to Ciphr, more than one in ten adults in the UK (11%) say they feel that their age has been a discriminating factor in the workplace and more than one in 20 (5.7%) believe they’ve suffered workplace discrimination based on their age.

Furthermore, statistics from the Ministry of Justice found that 3,668 complaints of age discrimination were made to employment tribunals in 2020, a 74% rise from 2,112 in 2019, which marked the largest rise of any type of work-related complaint.

What the law says

As CIPD states, age discrimination has been illegal in the UK since 2006, with the law now incorporated into the Equality Act 2010.

Under this act, age is one of the nine protected characteristics covered by equality legislation. Employers and hiring managers should be aware of the risk of age discrimination occurring in particular workplace activities such as the hiring process.

People of all ages can be affected, including younger and older workers, and the growing number of older people in employment makes this group a key focus.

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According to workers’ union Unison, younger candidates experience age discrimination such as being belittled, passed over for jobs or paid poorly because they are young and deemed inexperienced.

Andrew Secker, Employment Lawyer and Partner at Mills & Reeve, previously told HR Grapevine that ageism “does somewhat appear to be the acceptable face of discrimination for many”.

"With the UK’s workforce aging, we have more generations in the workplace than ever before. Employers will need to address this as part of managing a diverse workforce or else risk facing claims of a similar type,” Secker said.

Thoughts on Lawrenson’s claims

Mark Lawrenson’s comment about potentially being offloaded because of his age and gender was small but impactful. And he is not the only veteran sports presenter to have been ushered out in favour of new blood recently. Rival broadcaster Sky Sports has also made changes to its long-standing line-up of male pundits in recent months, with familiar faces such as Matt Le Tissier, Charlie Nicholas Phil Thompson making way for more ethnically and gender diverse presenters.

Claims of racially or gender-motivated job employee dismissals should rightly be taken seriously. However, when it comes to sports broadcasters wanting to shake up their on-screen talent, it is only natural that those to be axed will be middle-aged men, and predominantly white – because for the longest time, these people were the only ones to have an expert level knowledge of the game.

As we have seen in recent months, with the likes of the Lionesses showcasing that it is #HerGameToo, and pundits like Alex Scott proving that women often have a deeper knowledge of the modern game than male presenters who retired decades ago, perhaps it is appropriate to re-evaluate the gender imbalance in this area.

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Comments (2)

  • Survindar
    Tue, 4 Oct 2022 9:27am BST
    It's less to do with being 'white, 65 and male', and more to do with sales and the evolution of the game - viewers want to see some younger, fresher talent that understands modern football.

    Not to say that Lawrenson isn't a talented commentator and pundit, but his last match was 1988, and we're in the era of VAR and women's football on the rise, so it's good to hear from the likes of Alex Scott, Kelly Somers and the like.
  • julie
    Fri, 30 Sep 2022 2:19pm BST
    This isn't right if what he is saying is correct but then neither is any kind of discrimination for whatever reason. Hopefully one day we'll mostly get it right. I am holding out for that day and staying optimistic !!!!

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