How diverse talent can shake-up the established media environment

In a sector where degrees are commonplace and strong professional networks are important, apprenticeships can provide a way in for more recruits from diverse backgrounds

The UK's creative industries are in the business of inspiring, entertaining and reflecting our society. In order to do that authentically and effectively, we need a creative workforce that is as diverse as the society it seeks to reflect.

The creative industries may be perceived by many as diverse working environments, but the facts are actually to the contrary. Skillset's research into the demographic make-up of our industries show that the sector is still suffering something of a diversity deficit, with 39% women, 6% black, Asian and other visible ethnic minority (BAME) and 9% disability in the creative media workforce compared to 47% women, 9% BAME and 15% disabled in the UK workforce. And while we do not yet have figures for the sexual orientation of the workforce, it is instructive that, apart from ourselves, ITV is the only other media business with a ranking in the Stonewall Top 100 of gay-friendly employers.

Some of this under-representation appears to happen due to unconscious bias. This is why you hear many individuals saying they receive respect face to face, but the stats tell another story. Numbers of women, BAME and disabled people often shrink at senior management and board level and specific occupations still reflect long standing expectations of gender biased roles, although this is changing. Progress is being made, but most would agree, the powerful positions need to be as diversely populated as the entry-level roles.

Also, the informality of small and micro creative companies can actually produce more unintentional barriers than advantages in moving on in the media. "Who you know" can easily lead to "who is like me" when it comes to hiring and firing. Skillset, the sector skills council for the creative industries, and some key employers do recognise and support the powerful business case for having a diverse creative sector.

So one of the areas we are focused on is supporting and helping employers to work ethically and imaginatively to improve diversity in the sector. We have known for some time that long term, unpaid internships are a big problem in our industries. In fact, Skillset research has revealed that almost half (44%) of the creative media workforce said they had carried out unpaid work to get into the industry. Not only is this unfair and in some cases illegal, unpaid internships also limit the diversity of the industries by closing off entry to all but a select few who have the financial means to support themselves through long periods of unpaid work. We have worked with a number of key players in our industries, including large employers, unions and trade bodies, to produce guidelines for employers offering work placement schemes in the creative industries. The guidelines clearly set out the law and employment duties in the creative industries.

We have also developed a range of innovative apprenticeship programmes – in fashion and textiles, creative and digital media, photo imaging and set crafts. In a sector where degrees are commonplace and often expected, and strong professional networks are so important, an apprenticeship can provide a way in for more recruits from diverse backgrounds. These are young people who have grown up in a social media-connected world, but with experiences a world apart from the traditional graduates usually employed in media jobs. We need only look at examples such as Jamal Edwards' SB.TV to see how diverse talent can bring innovative ideas, knowledge of their target audience and a bit of a welcome shake-up to the established media environment.

Fresh talent like this is just what our industries want and need to understand and survive the technological and communications changes that will continue to arrive and challenge us. And young people and parents or carers need to see where to find jobs that they can do, and train for, not just dream of. We hope that Skillset apprenticeships provide one solution to these challenges.

Our commitment to diversity in the diverse creative sector is at our core, as demonstrated by our inclusion in the Stonewall Top 100 for four years running, but it's not a goal that we can achieve on our own. We need our industries to continue to engage and work with us, acknowledging the problem and embracing the solutions such as fairer work experience and internship arrangements and apprenticeships. The business case for diversity is strong. These solutions, among others, will help us transform this challenge into an opportunity.

Jo Welch is a partnership manager for Skillset, with responsibility for diversity

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