For true creative diversity, we must go back to the beginning

Old-boy networks are excluding talent from getting a foothold in the creative industries.

The creative industries must face up to one of the few certainties in our turbulent world: that whatever else the future holds, artificial intelligence will transform not only jobs and wages, but also how we value different skills and types of work.

The future of employment lies in creative minds and we have to find a diverse pipeline of talent to make sure this significant change represents a chance to reduce, not promote, inequality.

Just as Westminster and the City are dominated by the privately educated, so are the upper echelons of the creative industries. But as working culture changes, we have the perfect chance to make the change we need to see.

Events such as today’s Campaign Changing Faces summit, with its commitment to actionable insights to improve black, Asian and minority-ethnic diversity, are a great start, but a long-term solution will only come when we sort out the problems at the career entry point.

Right now, state education is failing to provide the next generation with the skills they need to meet the demands of creative employers and old-boy networks are excluding diverse talent from even getting a start in the creative industries.

Under-funded state schools have no choice but to focus on exams and measurable academic subjects over the arts, while private schools understand only too well that creativity has economic returns.

To take one of the most extreme examples, Eton has an artist in residence, studios for printmaking, drawing, painting, sculpture, ceramics, computer graphics and photography. There are three theatres and more convertible drama spaces, an Olympic-spec rowing lake, tennis courts, swimming pools and playing fields, among other facilities.

Creative industry employers look for a rich variety of cultural experiences and the ability to be creative comes from having many reference points. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that when we look at the richest people in TV, film and music, 38% were privately educated, despite representing just 7% of the population. People from BAME backgrounds are similarly under-represented, with The Guardian finding that just 36 of the 1,000 most powerful people in the UK come from ethnic minorities.

As Steve Jobs put it: "Creativity is just connecting things. Creative people are able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesise new things. And the reason they are able to do that is that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people."

For those asking how they can improve socioeconomic and BAME diversity in their creative businesses, I believe the answer lies in mentoring. We need to support employees to be gatekeepers for young people from diverse backgrounds who haven’t got connections and don’t understand the industry or what jobs are out there.

Because employers can step in where schools fail to tread. Only 6% of schools currently have a stable careers programme and that is often led by someone who is juggling another role such as head of sixth form.

State school provision around careers in the creative industries is particularly poor: the labour market in this sector moves quickly and many teachers have only ever worked in schools. Young people regularly tell me that their teachers have advised that they avoid the risk and keep creative pursuits as a hobby.

Employers reward networks. When I was a teacher, some of my brightest students did work experience at their local primary school or newsagent, not because they didn’t have the initiative to write to agencies and production companies, but because it’s easier to aim for a job if you know it exists, and my students just didn’t know what was out there.

Creative Mentor Network works with creative employers to remove these obstacles, and it works: we’ve put more than 450 people through our programme so far and 72% have accessed paid opportunities as a result, at places including Lucky Generals, Sky, Soho House, Sony and Wieden & Kennedy.

As a teacher, I was always telling my pupils that effort brings reward, and I say the same to employers that claim to want to attract a more diverse workforce. Stop talking, stop delaying decisions, stop passing the buck – make the choice and do the work to make it happen.

Isabel Farchy is founder and chief executive of Creative Mentor Network

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