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International Women's Day 2021: The Rise of BBC Sport's Debbie Dubois

08/03/2021

Straight from school to head of production: The rise of BBC Sport's Debbie Dubois International Womens Day 2021 focus By Heather McLean, Editor

Thursday, March 4, 2021 - 17:03

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BBC Sport's head of production, Debbie Dubois

Today most people feel that a degree is an absolute necessity when seeking a job in sports broadcasting. It has not always been this way, however, and the rise of BBC Sport's head of production, Debbie Dubois, is a perfect example of making your way to the top on talent and initiative, determination and resilience.

She says: The industry felt quite different in the late eighties when I first started out, and so my route in and background didn't necessarily mirror that of my colleagues. Having not come via the university degree route I struggled with that initially in terms of my career progression and the confidence to believe that I could make that next step.

Think more broadly than sport to gain as wide an experience across a wealth of genres at the start of your career; that wider knowledge and experience will stand you in good stead and the skills you gain will be transferrable to sport but will give you a different perspective

Now it's not even a consideration; I see it as a positive that I came in without a degree, from a northern working class background, and worked my way up, Dubois claims. You need determination and resilience to push through those challenges and know that you bring something different to each role in terms of your background and experiences. Finding a mentor who can give you that support, endorsement, and push is also crucial, and at various points along the way I had that guidance when I needed it.

With diversity and inclusion at the forefront of most broadcasters' agendas now, and with International Women's Day 2021 on 8 March upon us, it is important to see how those in the industry can make positive steps towards wider diversity and inclusion.

Seeing women in any role across the business can make a difference to that inclusion, says Dubois. Particularly if those women are in leadership roles. You need those role models for others to see that it is possible to make that progression. Finding a mentor who can support you and advise at various points, particularly when you feel you've hit a wall with regards to your career progression, can be invaluable. Likewise, make sure you acknowledge the importance of teamwork and recognising those around you who are often in the background but who play a vital role in their contribution.

She comments on what she would advise other women looking to get into a role similar to her own: Think more broadly than sport to gain as wide an experience across a wealth of genres at the start of your career; that wider knowledge and experience will stand you in good stead and the skills you gain will be transferrable to sport but will give you a different perspective, she continues. The same applies to roles and progression; I worked in radio for a period of time and working with smaller teams and tight budgets makes you creative in terms of your decision making and finding solutions.

BBC Sport's production management team in the World Cup 2019 studio in Russia, with head of production Debbie Dubois front left

Upwardly mobile

Dubois did not have TV broadcasting on her radar at first. As a career path it wasn't something I even had considered at school, she says. I did a business studies course with Spanish at college and then came into the BBC in a business support role.

The BBC offered - and still does - so many ways to progress your career and the opportunities it presented to me really sparked my interest in production, she continues. Once in, I took every opportunity to gain production experience, from manning phones on a Saturday for a children's show to sending out factsheets in the evenings after the day job finished, or working on appeal night for Children in Need. It all gave me valuable experience so that I could apply for production roles.

For over 20 years, Dubois worked in both TV and radio, moving around the BBC's factual, daytime, lifestyle and events departments, covering everything from a Papal visit to a royal funeral. Working in factual offered exposure to a range of formats, from magazine style to live studios and OB programmes, which included an element of live events.

I also worked across lifestyle titles such as Countryfile and cookery series, daytime consumer shows with high volume, low cost production models, which had a very different set of issues from delivering a major event in an overseas location, she says. All of those varied experiences shape your thinking and give you that breadth of knowledge to deal with whatever production challenges might come your way.

When the role in BBC Sport came up in 2011, she was a highly experienced production executive who had been working in factual for over a decade. I felt the time was right for me to try a new genre, so I applied for it and was appointed.

It was a, tricky time to join BBC Sport, as the department was still in the early stages of its move to Media City, and so operations, teams and Dubois' time was split between London and Salford for at least 18 months. There were new studios, technical facilities, and buildings to get across, but once we got through that initial period and the teams were all relocated it got easier to manage, she says. By then I had familiarised myself with a new department. In some ways moving across into sports output and the skills transfer across in terms of production was the easier bit, it was more of the culture change and joining at a time when for many the move and relocating was a huge life change for them.

Now, Dubois says it feels a very different place to work. The site has cont
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