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Increasing diversity in the workplace

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A report released a few weeks ago by the charity Teach First revealed that poor social mobility in the UK will result in a shortage of 3 million highly skilled workers by 2022, in jobs that require greater levels of innovative and lateral thinking. The report highlights once again the business case for greater diversity and inclusion in the creative industries. To meet these changes in our economy we need to be making this jobs market accessible to everyone, not just the privileged few.

In the UK, the creative sector is fast becoming a major export, contributing over £80bn a year to the economy. Despite this growth, a rising tide isn’t floating all boats. What has been termed a ‘class ceiling’ operates with particular force in creative businesses, and with uniquely damaging effects.

A creative industry that isn’t recruiting from all backgrounds, race, religions and genders is missing out on huge pools of talent and will begin to lose its relevance to large portions of society. In fact, figures show this is already a reality. Weber Shandwick reports that 77% of Asians, 78% of black people and 51% of Chinese people in the UK say marketing by mainstream brands has little or no relevance to them. For an industry whose bread and butter is engaging the ethnically diverse UK public, this is a worry.

Perhaps more pertinently, in London, many boroughs with a flourishing creative economy have amongst the highest populations of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET). Since the cost of the UK’s NEET problem is in excess of £77 billion annually when including lost income and the impact of wage scarring, it is a missed opportunity. Connecting these two communities – the creative economy and young talent from disadvantaged backgrounds – would benefit both.

The business case for diversity doesn’t stop there. A few years ago, McKinsey released Diversity Matters, a report revealing ethnically diverse companies to be 35% more likely to outperform their non-diverse competitors. Employers who had previously thought of inclusion as a charitable consideration suddenly began to take note.

Part of the reason diversity can have such a positive impact is the necessity it places on improved communication. Individuals have to work harder to understand and be understood by others around them which may slow things down at first, but there are rewards. When working together, expert teams have similar knowledge bases, similar strategies and get stumped at the same point. Conversely, the more varied a team, the wider the field of associations and the greater number of paths towards solving difficult problems.

So how do we increase diversity in creative companies?

  1. Invest in those on both sides

It’s important to actively recruit people from all backgrounds but also, to make sure your agency is somewhere everyone feels supported to contribute and thrive.

Pitch It matches talented and driven 16-19 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds with industry professionals looking to inspire the next generation and develop themselves as mentors.

Our young people get advice and mentoring, and businesses build a relationship with a talented young person. But we differ from other organisations in that we also offer mentors rigorous, accredited training in coaching and mentoring.

Reaping the benefits of a diverse team means working with those on both sides: making sure your team feels confident in their ability to support people who may be different to them is the best approach.

  1. Work with outside organisations

So many agencies want to create their own legacy in the form of in-house talent programmes. Devoting billable client hours to these projects is costly and not the best use of resource. Agency staff may not understand the complexity of the barriers faced by disadvantaged young people. This leads to simplistic programmes that reach out to those already in the know and have no impact on those who genuinely lack the networks they need.

There are many, many amazing outside organisations who are doing the job really well already. Champion them!

Ideas Foundation and School 21 both have really interesting approaches to preparing students for the creative world of work and are always looking for visiting professionals to run workshops.

  1. Have a point of contact

Although many agencies are interested in becoming more inclusive in the way they hire, it’s a long term aim and not immediately business critical meaning it can often slip down the list of priorities.

It’s worth having someone in the team who dedicates a few hours of their time to sourcing and working with outside organisations to recruit diverse talent.

Isabel Farchy 
will be hosting a panel discussion on 21st June on ‘The value of mentoring in creative business’. Sign up to the newsletter on the site to find out when tickets are available.