New toolkit on increasing socio-economic diversity and inclusion

July 25, 2019

Recently, Jerwood Arts and Bridge Group published a Toolkit for Employers in the arts focused on increasing socio-economic diversity and inclusion. It sets out why socio-economic background should be given the same consideration as ethnicity, disability and gender in recruitment and career development, and how to start doing so. 

Socio-economic background is becoming a hot topic for the arts, as data shows the lack of voices from ‘working class’ backgrounds, particularly in leadership positions, and research from the likes of Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries 2018 by Orian Brook, David O’Brien, and Mark Taylor; Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison’s The Class Ceiling: why it pays to be privileged (2019), and Elitist Britain 2019 by Sutton Trust and Social Mobility Commission repeatedly highlight that those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to suffer as a result of not having the right networks, the right set of cultural references, and the knowledge of the right way to present themselves to get ahead.

The sector is taking action. The BFI has started including socio-economic questions in its pioneering Diversity Standards. Arts organisations are increasingly experimenting with questions asking applicants to self-define the barriers they have faced, intending to capture some of the intersections between identity markers that act as a ‘double disadvantage’ to individuals. The Toolkit aims to provide a ‘one stop shop’ of information and guidance on everything from which questions to include for monitoring purposes, to where to advertise to reach a wider range of applicants, to what language to use (and not use!) in job descriptions and adverts. 

Since 2010, Jerwood Arts has been the independent funder behind the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries programme, providing us with insights into the real-world challenges of 110 leading arts organisations from across the UK shifting their thinking and then their day to day practices to become more inclusive employers. We felt that the Bridge Group consultancy’s research in other sectors provided both the push and inspiration of a further set of tried and tested actions that could be adopted across the arts. We have tried to make it as easy to understand, appealing and applicable as possible, and look forward to feedback and comments. 

The barriers to getting in and getting on in the arts can often be more acute than other sectors, since there are less defined career routes, often with limited job security. When those from lower socio-economic backgrounds opt out of particular careers of professional and artistic routes, it is rarely about lack of ambition or awareness and more to do with battling feelings of not belonging – negotiating low but constant micro-aggressions in the workplace – and less access to opportunities.

So at its heart the Toolkit recommends five actions: that employer’s measure and report on socio-economic diversity data, create space for conversations about ‘taste’, ‘talent’ and ‘merit’, stop offering unpaid and unadvertised job opportunities and create a more inclusive work culture and recruitment process to diversify their staff. It also offers practical advice on how to achieve sustainable institutional change, placing the onus of responsibility on employers to take a strategic approach to levelling the playing field. 

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