What works to support diversity in the creative industries?
Insights from roundtable 1 of the APPG for Creative Diversity

By the APPG for Creative Diversity team

June 04, 2020

At the end of May the APPG for Creative Diversity was delighted to host its first evidence round table. These sessions are running alongside the more general call for evidence submissions about ‘what works’ to improve diversity in creative industries. For the first session the focus was on people in charge of implementing and delivering organisational policy on diversity and inclusion.

The session gave numerous insights, with agreement about the problem of underrepresentation for women, people of colour, people living with disabilities, and those from working class origins. At the same time, there were a range of different organisational and individual strategies highlighted by the speakers, reflecting the differences between creative industries, even as they face the same problems and issues associated with exclusions and under-representations. 

Differences between creative industries are matched by differences within creative industries. One possible way of understanding this issue is by looking at ‘what works’ for different parts of creative organisations. It can be useful to recognise that business focused roles, such as accounting and HR in large creative businesses, have different needs and different dynamics as compared to creative or technical activities. 

This might seem like quite an abstract, or high level, discussion. Yet it was useful for our speakers who all suggested different strategies that can be useful for different roles. In some cases, it was working directly with education partners to change the gender mix on courses providing technical skills. For business skills it was about changing the narrative of an organisation and changing how roles, which depend on transferable skills, are advertised. Thinking about apprenticeships is useful here, both in terms of how to make things like the existing government schemes work better for the way creative industries are organised, and to make sure they provide routes into sustainable careers.

One area of consensus was on the need to involve middle management in any diversity projects. Whilst entry level programmes can be effective, and senior managers are publicly committed, those doing the hiring or taking decisions in the middle of organisations can be slower to adapt and respond. This is even where organisational strategies have changed. 

The need to change the ‘middle’ of organisations prompts a question at the heart of diversity and inclusion in creative industries. This is who gets to define what good practice, good creative work, and good creative products actually are. For these questions to have different answers than the ones we currently have, creative organisations will need to be active in highlighting and promoting the success of a diverse, rather than monocultural, workforce. 

This sort of recognition helps to combat a potential perception that diversity is a ‘risk’ for organisations. Celebration and recognition of success, whether in terms of high-profile projects, or in terms of audience numbers and revenue, also makes it clear that things can change and strategies can work, addressing a potential perception that nothing can improve and support diversity in creative industries. It can also help to dismiss unfounded concerns that there is a tension between quality and diversity. 

Perceptions of ‘risks’, pessimism that nothing works or that organisations will adopt the wrong strategies, and the idea that quality and diversity are opposed to each other are myths that need to be addressed. Part of asking who is defining what is ‘good’ is asking why these myths still persist and how they can be challenged.  

These myths need to be challenged in the context of a broader discussion of the legal and policy regime for creative work. Internships, working conditions, and contracts are just three examples where employers and workers often lack essential information on employment law and employment regulations. Making sure the sector knows legal rights and responsibilities is an important way of supporting diversity initiatives.

The discussion at this first session generally reflected an organisational point of view. This is a vitally important perspective, but it is only one aspect of how creative industries work. Thinking about the issues facing freelancers and individual creatives, particularly in the world of commissions, sales, and grants, is something the APPG will be attentive to in future sessions. 

The next step, following on from this broad discussion, is to look at specific sectors within the creative industries. The next session for the APPG will focus on ‘what works’ to encourage and support diversity in the fashion industry.

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For more information about the APPG for Creative Diversity, please contact Alex Pleasants (co-secretariat) on diversityappg@gmail.com.

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