What works to support diversity in the creative industries? Insights from roundtable 4 of the APPG for Creative Diversity

October 06, 2020

September saw the fourth meeting of the APPG for Creative Diversity, with the film and TV industries as the core focus for the participants. The themes were familiar from previous discussions, with a recognition of the nature of the diversity crisis on and off screen; a focus on the need for better and more accurate data in a set of industries with large numbers of freelancers; and some examples of best practice and success.   

As with other creative industries, the start of the pipeline matters. The government’s Creative Careers programme was one example of work to address the mismatch between early career creatives and jobs and training programmes in the industry.

Beyond the entry level, the roundtable focused in on gender, disability, and race as three crucial elements of exclusion in film and TV. Responses to the Black Lives Matter movement of this summer were an important subject of discussions. BLM offered a source of hope, as major broadcasters have responded with commitments to commissioning and funding.

Yet commissioning and funding interventions for early career workers in film and TV can miss the importance of support for those in the middle of careers, and those seeking to enter leadership roles. Changing and evolving leadership - for example who makes commissioning decisions - is not just about supporting a diverse set of early career individuals, but also about change throughout every organisational level.

As one participant noted, individuals schemes or training programmes are important, but ultimately the organisations, whatever size, should have a recruitment process in place that ensures diverse talent are attracted, rather than just being recruited from closed and existing networks. As we’ve seen in previous sessions, the need for organisational change, rather than just single hires or individual schemes, is crucial.

This is especially important when connected to financial support. The freelance nature of much of the film and TV means it can be difficult to access the most valuable opportunities. This is especially true for specific roles, such as writing for television, where gender imbalances need direct financial support for writing projects, as much as they need networking events.

Some of this support is coming from policy organisations, and the role of the BFI in some of the participants’ careers was highlighted as an important positive force for change. As well as support schemes, the BFI is developing and progressing its data and monitoring approaches to diversity. This is both in terms of their existing diversity standards, and in terms of areas such as exclusions based on social class, which have previously not been formally assessed.

However, even where there are support schemes, monitoring and data collection regimes, and financial backing, there is still the issue of power and control. A very significant intervention reminded the meeting of the need for direct representation in decision making, with the example of the near total absence of disabled commissioners as a common experience in the careers of disabled film and tv practitioners. How can people understand experiences, commission accurate representations of those experiences, and challenge stereotypes, if there is no voice in the room to help shape decisions? This is perhaps the most fundamental challenge for all creative industries, going beyond questions of how to develop leaders and connecting directly to the issue of whether those in power are willing to share, or even give up, control.

The session heard about an important intervention on terminology. Currently many organisations are using ‘BAME’ as a catch-all term when thinking about diversity. Yet this term has been subject to criticism and is seen as a problem for best practice in diversity in many ways. This is an important point for creative organisations to be aware of as thinking develops on this subject. 

Finally, with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic being felt throughout film and TV, the need for equality and diversity is even more pressing. As one participant commented, when the industry is rebuilt and recovers, it must not reconstruct the same barriers preventing everyone, no matter what their background, succeeding in the sector.

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