Black History Month Special, Uncategorized

Diversity in the creative industries

‘White, male and middle class.’ There’s always something so poignant about a power of three to emphasise a point, isn’t there? But perhaps the use of the word ‘power’ here may also emphasise a hint of irony, for this triple threat can often act as a hindrance to many individuals striving to work within a myriad of sectors – the creative industries being a prime example.

Now what if we were to take another ‘power’ of three? Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME), for example. Not such a triple threat, some might suggest. But why? According to the Employment Census published by Creative Skillsets in 2012, BAME represented a mere 5.4 percent in the creative industries, yet the UK prides itself on being a largely diverse and inclusive nation. Are we sensing more irony here? More to the point, if there is such a vast imbalance in the sector, what hope do young individuals from underrepresented communities have when wanting to pursue careers in the industry?

Third year Politics and Media Studies student Edu Opaluwa aspires to become a political editor, but shares her concerns about the future of her chosen career. ‘I’ve always been interested in becoming a journalist, and becoming an editor would just be the icing on the top.

‘[But] if I’m honest, it wasn’t until I realised how very few BAME journalists there are in high positions compared to non-BAME that I noticed there was a problem. I think being so aware of my skin colour and how it can be perceived and linked to out of date stereotypes worries me.

‘I definitely have faith in the newer generation of individuals, but there are loads of people who still have preconceived notions of black people, and those people still have a lot of power in the industry.’

While there is no magic formula that can change structures that have been ingrained into our society and culture for countless years overnight, hope may still prevail. Cue: Creative Access, a not-for-profit social enterprise which prides itself on being ‘the only organisation in the UK dedicated to recruiting BAME talent in the creative industries’. Founded in 2012 by Josie Dobrin, Chief Executive of Creative Access, and two other entrepreneurs, the not-for-profit offers internships across ten different creative sectors, from newspaper and magazine publishing to radio and television.

“It was a perfect storm”

‘It was a perfect storm, the way Creative Access came about,’ Dobrin tells me as we sit in one of the meeting rooms provided by ITV at their Holborn office in the heart of London (which, according to the British census in 2011, was 40 percent BAME and 14 percent non-white). ‘We were of the belief that media and creative companies had to be creating content that would reach all audiences. We began getting in contact with professionals across the sector who could train individuals.

‘The bread and butter of what we do is placing interns or trainees in creative companies, [which] are all paid internships, typically between 3 and 12 months.’

Support is offered throughout the process, from guidance with CVs and cover letters, to a buddy system which pairs up fellow interns to share experiences. After ‘graduating’ from an internship, an individual can move on to their development programme, an area in need of more funding.

At present, Creative Access has trained nearly 1000 interns and holds partnerships with over 300 employers, including ITV and the National Theatre. Training is also provided to employers too, in order to diversify the workforce.

“I’m a big advocate for positive discrimination”

‘I think it’s really important that companies don’t do this just to tick boxes, which is why our training programme works really well because it’s a real commitment on both sides. I think it makes a difference if people can progress, to have a path to go through.

‘I’m a big advocate for positive discrimination because I feel that the truth is, white people have had that privilege for so long. This issue of diversity is bad at entry level, but is terrible at senior level. What we are trying to do is create leaders of the future.’

Looking closer to home, the reality of diversity within the student media alone is also of interest. It was Yinbo Yu, NUS International Students’ Officer and former Activities and Opportunities Officer at UEA, who suggested in the 2017 War of Words Conference that the UEA media collective lacked BAME representations. He brought attention to the fact that, having participated in student media himself, it is largely all white and lacking in diversity of other ethnic origins: ‘If you walk into the media offices of student newspapers, it’s all white. If you look at the writers, it’s all white.’

Which is why – drum roll – Creative Access is Concrete’s chosen organisation to fundraise for during this academic year. Sophie Bunce, Concrete’s Editor-in-Chief, had further constructive criticism for the student newspaper itself. ‘The media collective is a thriving creative and inclusive space and I feel incredibly luck to work within our diverse group. But to say that we represent everyone simply isn’t true and something I am making active changes to address.

‘Through our work with Creative Access, I hope to show our commitment to diversity, making it a fundamental part of how Concrete operates. Our publication has elevated student voices for the last 27 years and I want to ensure that involves everyone. It is a pleasure to be working with [them].’

On behalf of the Creative Access team, Dobrin expresses the gratification of this partnership with Concrete. ‘It’s so important to us to have support from the ground. Young people are who we live for, and every penny makes a difference.’

We hope that you will follow our progress in making the student newspaper a more diverse and inclusive creative outlet, as well as our endeavours to make small changes in tackling the imbalances across the creative sector as a whole. We will keep you updated on how you can get involved with any fundraising efforts across the year. Three final words: diversity, inclusivity and fundraise.

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September 2021
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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