Let me start with the good news. There is no shortage of new talent wanting to break into our industry, to be part of the creative landscape and to make their mark in strategy teams across the UK, as the annual growth in applications for Brixton Finishing School’s courses attests.

We launched in 2018, with a mission to diversify the industry’s talent ‘blueprint’ and with two nationwide virtual gateways to the industry, free and open to all, this year we are reaching more talent than ever before.

The Future of Strategy 2020

This article is part of WARC's The Future of Strategy report, which is based on a global survey of senior strategists and in 2020 focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on strategy.

Read the full report

Our C19 Hopes and Fears survey of recent graduates and applicants conducted this May, however, reveals the stark reality that confronts the vast majority when they meet the people that make up their chosen future industry and simply can’t identify with them. As nearly half candidly state, "there are no role models or mentors for people like me," while most frustratingly, 31% believe their race is a barrier to entry.

We’ve been working hard to overcome each of these barriers, but this has been severely impacted by the global pandemic. Just 23% of those surveyed were confident of finding roles in the creative industries within the next six months. There is a narrow window of opportunity to welcome young talent in and that window narrows further when you come from under-represented groups, away from the comfort of a network of contacts within the industry – 71% of participants believe that not knowing the right people is a barrier to entry into the industry. Furthermore, nearly half of the respondents (46%) feel they are disadvantaged by not being able to take up internships or work for free.

And with a reported 68% of all UK work experience cancelled in 2020 and thousands of placements postponed, unsurprisingly 63% say they can't get the right experience.

The fears are manifold: “the job market will be saturated after Covid and it will be impossible to compete with teams that have previously worked in the industry”, “I'll find it harder to secure placements as I'll be competing with graduates from last year who have had their current placements cancelled” and “not many new entry level jobs due to budget cuts” are just some of the reservations expressed by our respondents.

The argument abounds that we need senior and experienced diverse talent. Of course, we do – this is essential in both hiring and retaining new talent from underrepresented backgrounds. But pause for a minute please and take a look around the industry around us, the most recent network office you walked through, or the last awards show you attended. When was the last time you saw a senior strategist from a minority ethnic background?

The students on our courses don’t arrive with an inherent understanding of strategy and they certainly haven’t considered it as a viable career option – they only learn this during our ‘strategy week’. To the outside world, it is an invisible role, so we must focus on changing the industry as a whole and that will then improve diversity and access for all teams. Strategy is still seen as a such a cerebral role and as such, old biases remain, where recruitment frequently centres around the those with traditional degrees in classic subjects, from more elite centres of education, often the ones that are already under scrutiny for a lack of inclusion. Yet for strategy teams to really resonate, they need to include a collection of individuals who together offer a forensic understanding of people and culture.

While the hope exists that the rapid shift to digital and widely adopted work-from-home practises that the pandemic precipitated will lead to a wider pool of industry talent, based across the country, many of our students remain unconvinced. One of our 2019 cohort is now working within a strategy team at an agency and states that: “in reality, the creative industry’s diversity problem will persist unless agencies harness the digital realm as a way to support talent at every stage and showcase an authentically diverse environment in which diverse talent would want to work and stay.”

Until we start to see all groups represented, we cannot have balance, and without that balance, can we truly claim to understand all the audiences that our clients need to reach? For our industry to successfully rebuild post-Covid-19, we need to protect our talent pipeline and ensure that we have teams in place that can help us deliver successful creative campaigns. And the simple fact is, without junior talent in your organisation, how can you truly claim to understand culture?