The case for making early career access for less financially-secure groups is the leading metric in advertising’s drive to diversity.
Addressing the barrier between those from lower socio-economic backgrounds and the creative industry is integral – and essential – to having a balanced approach toward the dominating focus in 2023 – diversity and inclusion. In 2020, the Policy and Evidence Centre found that advertising and marketing were the least diverse industries in terms of means, with a mere 24% of their workforce identifying as working class. This inequality is only widening as a result of the pandemic and the economic pressures that have followed it.
In recent years many industries have seen welcome support for progress towards equality rooted in gender, sexuality and ethnicity. Cultural revolutions such as the 2017 #MeToo Movement and Black Lives Matter garner global support and are highly visible. But we are still to see comparable levels of public consciousness around the injustices created by unequal access to many of the UK’s most important industries.
Yet unequal access is an intrinsic barrier to equality which affects every minority group individually and collectively. So in 2024, the conversation around diversity and inclusion needs to better lean into this unequal access. Below are four areas for improvement to help create a more equitable and diverse workplace in the coming year.
Financial resource is intrinsic to the question of hiring more people from low-income backgrounds. Any discussion about equality is meaningless without recourse to fairness of pay. It’s all very well saying ‘this industry needs a more diverse workforce to improve’, but relatively low starting salaries and unpaid internships make a career in advertising much harder to access for people from low-income backgrounds.
Companies can act now to make the London Living Wage and its equivalent the norm for first timers and consign unpaid internships to history. For example, we are already seeing some businesses introduce a number of things such as increasing graduate starting salaries and where earnings are low, pay additional pension contributions and offer access to financial advisors for free. Brands such as Penguin and the Bank of England are offering intern programmes dedicated to improving access in their industries by ditching unpaid internships in favour of properly paid chances at work experience. Finance extends beyond salaries and as we continue through economically challenging times it’ll be more important than ever for businesses to go the extra mile.
There’s also a much longer-term aspect about internships to consider. Data shows that those who complete paid internships earn £4k more than average in their later careers than those who do unpaid work. At the heart of the question around pay is the extent to which prospective employees know, and are willing to fight for, their worth. Being paid, rather than being taken advantage of, early on is central – especially among those from low-income backgrounds for whom poor pay is an expectation.
Our next factor, geography, is the most powerful secondary influence over the wealth divide. Data shows that 80% of the UK’s creative output comes from the South East, in turn isolating creativity in one half of the country. Despite the miseries it imposed, an overlooked benefit of COVID and working from home was that suddenly this geographical boundary became far less restrictive as people could effectively collaborate over the North and South divide.
Now, three years on, creative industries need to resist the urge to snap back into well-trodden working practices in 2024. While every creative endeavour needs a lot of time working together IRL, we can still use our imaginations about where we find our partners. Directors, designers and influencers should expand beyond the stereotypical faces from Hackney to reflect the diverse society we live in. As rent in London hits a 12.1% increase compared with last year, we are seeing more and more people looking toward other cities where living costs and office spaces may be more affordable. The creative industries in the likes of Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol are all thriving with a myriad of brilliant production companies and talent to partner with.
The third contributing factor, education, is a major barrier to industry progress behind financial and geographic prohibitors. Primarily, a degree from a distinguished university paves the way into many creative industry roles. If we are limiting our intake in such a way, there is no surprise as to why those from a lower socioeconomic background find it more difficult to find a way into the industry. And it starts with the application process. In 2017, the BBC removed education details from its CV in a bid to employ fewer staff from privileged backgrounds, after it was revealed that more than 60% of its staff had parents working in senior management jobs. ‘Blind interview’ tactics like this and others including drafting more inclusive job descriptions and removing names, addresses and photos from applications can encourage people from all backgrounds to apply for jobs in the creative industry.
With only a limited number of creative colleges in the UK, it is also imperative that we lead the change by not relying on the obvious places to find our next generation. As well as individual companies developing their pathway programmes, organisations like Creative Access and The Media Trust do fantastic work in this space. In 2024 businesses should make recruitment via these channels the norm not the exception and help accelerate the rate of change.
It’s easy to overlook the importance of this fourth factor, given it’s less visible than the other three; but social capital is one of the most powerful influences in maintaining the accessibility gap. As social animals, using our existing ties to help us in our career path is a natural human trait. The issue here lies in the lack of ties that transcend the wealth gap. In the long-term, as change happens and more diverse individuals enter the creative workforce, they will in turn attract more people like themselves. But in the short-term, the industry must build those ties itself.
We know that mentorships are key to fostering connections between the industry and young people. It allows them to explore and learn about creative roles with no commitment and gives them the ties they need to strengthen their job applications. Businesses should be looking toward utilising mentorships as much as possible to give those with no relationship to the industry an equal in. Creative Mentor Network is one of the organisations we will continue to see paving the way for creative mentorships, with over 1000 young people forming professional relationships with a mentor in the industry in 2022 through their initiatives.
Wholesale change in how, who and from where we recruit can feel overwhelming and perhaps even naive. But we have to become more sophisticated in our approach to diversity and inclusion in 2024 – if we keep in mind the four barriers that seal off our industry from vast amounts of untapped talent, we can make rapid progress.
After all, recruiting at the entry level to our industry can be relatively risk free as we are recruiting for raw talent and potential, not experience.
And without more equality of access, advertising will miss out on the disproportionate rewards that will come with having a more inclusive and diverse workforce.