Joy Francis ‘Talk your ideas into existence’

For our first September’s blog we have the great pleasure to introduce you to Joy Francis, executive director of Words of Colour Productions and co-founder of Digital Women UK. Joy is a long term advocate of gender equality and diversity in the workplace and especially in the media industry. Joy shares her inspirational and eclectic journey with us, from her first initiative, the UK’s first national newspaper internship programme for black, Asian and minority ethnic journalism students to her constant need to mentor and be mentored.

If you would like to nominate women and supportive men who are active movers and shakers in the field of digital creativity to share their stories and thoughts with our readers in the coming months please do get in touch


I have always been a questioning and opinionated person

I have always been a questioning and opinionated person. You had to be in my home. As one of five vocal female siblings, being able to argue my point was a prerequisite to be heard.

I also had a good role model – my mother. Despite leaving school at 15 in Jamaica, she transitioned from selling Avon cosmetics as a sideline to becoming Avon UK’s first black area manager, and one of its top 10 best performing managers. I was impressed with how she used her position to mentor low income women to improve their financial standing by being representatives and managers.

Growing up in this type of environment, with an entrepreneurial mother who also demanded that we travel the world, had a huge impact on me personally and professionally. It made me understand the importance of self expression, self belief and taking risks.

I needed to challenge the single narrative, which permeates the media, especially with regards to race and gender

When I turned down an offer to study law at Essex University to take an extra year off to complete an A level in politics, my mother was initially concerned but soon realised my passion was focused elsewhere. My innate frustration with social injustice played a major part in my decision to pursue a politics degree and then study journalism instead.

A common thread throughout my life and work is the need to challenge the single narrative, which permeates the media, especially with regards to race and gender. Doreen Lawrence, Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, was the inspiration behind my first major initiative, the UK’s first national newspaper internship programme for black, Asian and minority ethnic journalism students.

Why weren’t black, Asian and minority ethnic people entering or being recruited by the profession they had chosen?

Launched in 2000 with seed funding from the Freedom Forum in Washington, the three year programme was fuelled by the MacPherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence and the fact that the media itself was ‘hideously white’, to quote the BBC’s former director general Greg Dyke. Anecdotal evidence, in the absence of research in this area, indicated that the few black, Asian and minority ethnic people who secured places on competitive print journalism programmes virtually disappeared after graduation. Why weren’t they entering or being recruited by the profession they had chosen?

Doreen Lawrence gave her endorsement for the internship programme’s launch and we partnered with eight publications, including The FT, The Times and The Big Issue, who committed to looking at their recruitment and editorial practices to inspire change.

The successful interns, who secured three and six month paid internships with support from handpicked industry mentors of colour, were impressive. Over 60 per cent were women, most of whom were offered full time contracts. Yet they would have been overlooked or lost without the programme, despite already being on accredited journalism courses.

Thankfully many of our interns from over a decade ago are still making strides in the industry, such as Melissa Thomspon, features writer at the Daily Mirror, Colleen Harris, an award-winning producer at BBC News at Six and Ten, Tamara Gausi, editor at Equal Times based in Brussels, and Kelly Jarrett, an award-winning executive producer at Al Jazeera English. The internship model was then adopted by Transport for London’s press office.

When you want change to happen, you just have to kick start the change yourself

When you want change to happen, you just have to kick start the change yourself and not be afraid to ask for what you want or need. Also saying yes to the unknown has led me to work on and develop programmes on digital communications, campaigning and media diversity in countries such as South Africa, Algeria, Morocco, Albania, Lithuania, Slovenia and Hungary.

Working with 20 science communicators through the British Council to launch the first South African science cafes in the mid-nineties broadened my horizons. They are now running in countries such as Kenya and Uganda. My collaborator over two years, virologist Dr Sheila Ochugboju, was a role model. She transformed my thinking and took me out of my comfort zone regarding the places and levels women could operate. Her thinking stretched the boundaries of science and incorporated entrepreneurship within the African context. I was hooked.

On my very eclectic journey I have mentored and been supported and encouraged by women – and men

Another theme in my life is identifying and plugging a ‘gap’ of some sort. This is what prompted the formation of Words of Colour Productions, which creates programmes for and develops culturally diverse writers – of all genres, seven years ago. The same for Digital Women UK , co-founded with Julie Tomlin in September 2013, to facilitate female creatives to use digital platforms to showcase their work, sustain their careers and reach their audiences.

On my very eclectic journey I have mentored and been supported and encouraged by women – and men. John Owen, professor of international journalism at City University, and Jon Snow, Channel 4 news anchor, were cheerleaders, collaborators and mentors throughout the internship programme. Jude Kelly OBE, artistic director of the Southbank Centre and founder of the WOW Festival and the Web We Want Festival, has offered advice and support to Digital Women UK.

Digital strategist and award-winning filmmaker Campbell X and Academic Dr Angela Martinez Dy are helping Digital Women UK to build programmes for women to become sustainable digital entrepreneurs. Digital poet and academic Toni Stuart and executive coach and writer Jackee Holder are helping to shape my vision to create self compassion and mindfulness programmes for women creatives.

My work with Dr Martinez Dy, has led to a collaborative event – Missing in Action: Women and Digital Enterprise in the UK. This ‘thought space’ for academics and aspiring and existing digital entrepreneurs to share their experience, devise solutions and meet experts, is taking place on 21 and 22 November at the University of Nottingham’s business school.

If you don’t ask, you won’t know

Along the way I’ve learnt not to think that anything or anyone is beyond my reach. If you don’t ask, you won’t know. Be strategic in your thinking and actions. Many women working in micro or SME enterprises often punch above their weight. To sustain this position you have to think ahead and own your strengths and shortcomings. Who do I need to collaborate with to make this work? What skills do/don’t I have and what resources can I draw upon?

Find a mentor, critical friend and/or executive coach. I now have access to all three. I didn’t at first, but after playing these roles for others, I realised I had to get this support for my own sustainability.

Talk your ideas into existence

Be open to change. Trust your gut instincts. Be willing to make mistakes and learn when to say no without guilt.  All of these things have transformed my thinking, my wellbeing and have made me more empathetic – and confident. An affirmation I have grown to love is ‘talk your ideas into existence’.

Whatever your vision, trust that there are people, men and women, here and abroad, who are willing and skilled to help you realise it.


Digital Women UK founders Julie Tomlin and Joy FrancisJoy Francis is executive director of Words of Colour Productions and co-founder of Digital Women UK. She was unexpectedly involved in the early onset of digital communications in the UK when she was launch editorial director of Training for Life’s first portal back in the early-noughties. As a journalist she has worked and written for the specialist, ethnic and the national press, and been a social commenter on BBC radio and TV, Sky News and ITV. The politics graduate, who also studied film and scriptwriting, is a former BBC script reader and judge for BBC New Writing and Drama divisions, and a former visiting lecturer in Journalism at the London College of Communication. A longstanding campaigner for media diversity, in 2000 Joy launched The Creative Collective Media’s National Print Internship Programme, which was identified as a model of good practice by the Society of Editors and in 2009 was selected as a top 30 Europe-wide media diversity programme by the European Commission. In 2011, Joy helped to establish and launch the innovative Diversity and the Media MA at the University of Westminster, the first of its kind internationally, in partnership with the Media Diversity Institute.

Picture: Joy Francis with Julie Tomlin