Prospects for poorest worsen as creative industries’ working-class workforce falls to 12%

Industry network Common People says more can be done to improve socio-economic diversity in adland

A mere 12% of the creative industry workforce hails from a lower socio-economic background in the UK, compared to a nationwide average of 29%, according to data from The Sutton Trust and The Bridge Group.

The report focuses on socio-economic diversity and opportunities within the engineering sector, but highlights disparities across various industries including academia, law, media and the creative industries.

The results have disheartened many in the advertising and marketing industry, as not only are the numbers low compared to other industries, but have worsened in recent years.

Lisa Thompson, co-founder of Common People, an industry network for working class people in adland, tells The Drum: “The Sutton Trust results today are disheartening and infuriating. Not only are only 12% of the creative industries workforce from lower socio-economic backgrounds, but it is a statistic that is worsening, decreasing by 30% since 2017.

“This is frankly unacceptable and to solve this we need to get real about the diversity initiatives we currently have in place, because they don’t seem to be working.”

How to solve the problem

The Sutton Trust outlines certain recommendations to improve socio-economic diversity:

  • Employers should collect and analyze data on socio-economic background, as well as gender and ethnicity

  • Firms should introduce clear pathways to support progression for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds

  • Firms should think of ways to widen work experience and internship opportunities

Thompson says the creative industries must address the practical challenges that can stop those from a lower socio-economic background from entering the industry.

“We need to stop people working for free, we need to pay a real living wage, and we need to think about the costs associated with training programs as they automatically exclude great talent from the pool. However, some simple things can be done quickly – funding transport for interviews, for example, can make a huge difference to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.”

She adds that firms must also begin to consider internal culture. “We often make the mistake of thinking that because we are creative and it’s a casual culture that this equals welcoming. This is sadly not the case.”

The Common People Network has heard from people who felt out of place and uncomfortable in the creative world. “We can’t just recruit from those from lower socio-economic backgrounds – we need to welcome talent and to do this we need to take a long hard look at our culture.”

Thomson points to “brilliant organizations” such as Commercial Break that are doing good work. She concludes: “We need to invite these organizations in, listen to them and implement changes. It’s not easy, [it] can be uncomfortable, but not only is it the right thing to do, it will result in us as an industry creating better work.”