Dear adland, we're not all in this together... but we could be

The founder of Brixton Finishing School on barriers to entry and the new talent trying to break into the industry.

The old maxim "It’s not what you know, it’s who you know" is unfortunately alive and well in our industry. Pre-Covid-19, equality stats made for grim reading – with the IPA diversity survey showing a drop in multicultural representation. But current events and the ongoing pandemic has created the perfect storm to further hamper those who find it challenging to break into the industry, as it continues to disrupt the futures of young people across the UK, with 68% of work experience cancelled, placements evaporating and graduate schemes dissipating.

The bottom line is this: without a diverse workforce, we’re not going to be able to successfully rebuild post-Covid-19. We need to protect and enrich our talent pipeline with a diversity of voices for employers in the future. Yet, despite the well-meaning drives among many leaders for diversity, the industry is still not representative of wider society – as we can tell simply by listening to those trying to get in: groups of people from multicultural, working-class and neurodiverse backgrounds.

Our recent C19 Hopes and Fears survey of Brixton Finishing School graduates and applicants reveals that 71% of participants believe that not knowing the right people is a barrier to entry into the industry, while 63% say they can't get the right experience; and nearly half (46%) feel they are disadvantaged by not being able to take up internships or work for free. The most frustrating of them all is that 31% believe their race is a barrier to entry. 

A large proportion can’t identify with people in the industry, with nearly half stating: "There are no role models or mentors for people like me." Meanwhile, one personal account noted: "The HR that wants diversity tends to have no diversity themselves and no understanding of what it means to come from an ethnic and cultural background." These are just some of the findings that show we need more intervention to create opportunities.

This is not a lost generation yet. But we recognise that Covid-19 will have a dramatic impact on the futures of young people in the UK. Positive pathways, upskilling and professional preparation for when opportunities open up again is central to supporting them while we wait for the lights to come back on. We can choose the "reset" commanded by Covid-19 to completely change our approach to future talent management and to change the blend of our talent pipeline and optimise it for the outcomes in the future. 

Brixton Finishing School is using this crisis to create a nationwide pool of ambitious, work-ready, diverse voices who are waiting for roles to open. This will ensure all shortlists can be balanced and inclusive. We challenge companies to see the real value that a diverse and inclusive workforce brings to the table and we are determined to go faster and push the accelerator on our plans to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table. 

We’ve created two nationwide, virtual gateways to adland and the creative industries, free and open to all, in addition to Brixton Finishing School 2020. We are seeking partners for funding, content and mentoring. We also need the industry’s support to safeguard our students’ futures and protect diversity and inclusion in adland, so we have launched a crowdfunding campaign to continue to create opportunities for all across the industry.  

We must protect our diverse talent pipeline at all costs – it's our industry’s future. Let’s all be in it together.

Ally Owen is founder of Brixton Finishing School

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