London is not the UK: why employers and diversity initiatives need to consider this for student and graduate opportunities in the creative sector
Industries such as arts and crafts; film, theatre and performing arts; architecture and design; publishing; broadcast media and recorded music; and advertising, spring to mind when speaking of the wider ‘creative sector’. The creative economy includes jobs within creative industries as well as creative jobs, such as marketing and design in traditionally non-creative sectors like manufacturing and tech. It has been highlighted as one of the fastest-growing sectors in both the UK and global economy. Yet despite this huge growth, many demographics of British society remain underrepresented.
Women, for instance, hold 47.1% of all jobs in the UK but within the creative economy, this is just 36.1%. Furthermore, in the highest-paid occupational group, consisting of Managers, Directors and Senior Professionals, only 29.9% of these roles were occupied by women in London, where they make up 35.6% of the creative workforce. Geographically speaking, there is also a clear London-bias. As of 2015, 1 in 11 (9%) of all jobs in the UK fell within the creative economy, with 1 in 18 (5.6%) roles in the North-East of England relating to this fiscality. Meanwhile, London enjoys a 16.4% share in the creative economy, with nearly 1 in 3 (28.2%) of jobs being within this fiscality. Moreover, 30.8% of jobs are within creative industries specifically. The North-East has historically been the most economically deprived area of England while the capital has always been the most financially dominant area. this stark disparity highlights the North vs South divide as a persistent phenomenon to this day. At first glance, BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic – although many of us choose to not define ourselves as such, the data on people of colour comes under this umbrella term) inclusion appears to be only slightly disproportionate. BAME workers make up 11.3% or the UK’s total workforce and 10.9% of the workforce in the creative economy (as of 2015) while making up 12,8% of the country’s population (as of 2011). Yet when looking at London figures, which is particularly pertinent given the huge BAME population (40.2%) and prevalence of jobs in the creative sector, it is evident that BAME representation follows the same startling trend as the former two categories. Across all industries in London, ethnic minorities make up 31.3% of the workforce but in the creative economy this figure is just 23.4%. The only instance of overrepresentation for this demographic is among the lowest-paid occupational groups, relating to care work and customer service (38.1%). Concurrently, only 14.2% of workers in the highest-paid category were BAME.
These factors are challenging enough to navigate through singularly, but as a black woman from the North-East of England, I’ve had to negotiate all three in my quest to build a career as a creative. Indeed, the geographical disconnect between myself and how it appears to be the rest of the black population in this country (after all, 58.4% of this country’s 3% black population live in London) made itself deafeningly clear to me throughout my whole adolescence. The first time I’d developed an awareness of the fact that I was truly an ethnic minority in this country was when my family and I relocated from Manchester to Newcastle, at the age of 12. Having resided in the sometimes humorously tag-lined ‘London of the North’ for nearly all of my living memory, I was met with a stark culture shock upon being brought to this overwhelmingly white and underwhelmingly black city called Newcastle.
After year 13 I’d decided that I wanted to take a gap year and try and get an internship or relevant work experience within the fashion industry, before going to University. Entry-level roles within the fashion industry are already notoriously underpaid and I had my heart set on a social media apprenticeship in London at ASOS. However, there would have been absolutely no way of me completing this on the measly apprenticeship minimum wage of £2.73 an hour (in 2014) while having to support myself in London. This quickly became the case for multiple other opportunities I saw that were overwhelmingly based in London. I eventually settled for a similar role but at a much smaller local clothing store in Newcastle, to do my internship. In this case, my geographical location posed an obstacle to me in terms of my access to great opportunities. it was especially disheartening as I’d always been a big dreamer and wanted to prove myself at a large company, with a huge international presence. But unfortunately, nearly all of these companies are based in London. Even as a graduate, I’m often having to calculate whether or not I can even afford to attend an interview, let alone take the job. These considerations are made with the knowledge that I have no family to stay with and often have to shell out on accommodation whenever I go to London. London-based students and graduates have the luxury of living with family while they work, which usually entails free or significantly discounted accommodation. While many would rather move out so as to experience more freedom, the fact remains that this action for them is often optional, for those of us outside of Greater London is usually out of necessity. The long-term drawbacks of this also mount up. While many in London can work full-time and build savings for a bigger deposit and less borrowing for a mortgage, outsiders must take a huge chunk out of our salary to pay for the ‘privilege’ of even being able to commute to work.
A 2019 inquiry into the UK’s economic imbalances revealed that geographic ‘economic disparities… have grown’, despite Government actions to close the gap. The report’s foreword highlights three key impacts of the ‘acute and growing economic spatial disparities’ in the UK:“First, it means that we are not taking full advantage of the economic potential that all parts of the UK have to offer… Second, it creates an imbalance of wealth and opportunity that in turn creates division… Third, it creates enormous pressures in terms of population growth, housing affordability and an overloaded infrastructure in the economically high performing parts of the country (with big costs for both individuals and government).”
Indeed, these findings indicate a repeated cycle of brain drain from the North to the South (particularly South-East). The costs of relocating to the creative industry hotspot of London act as a financial barrier to access desirable work, thus, disabling those who cannot afford to make this relatively steep investment. As over 50% of all BAME households in the UK are economically ‘working class’, as defined by the Government, vs only 38% of white British and white other households, it would be reasonable to assume that this spatial drawback would affect BAME young people outside of London the most.
Yet this barrier of access for many BAME young people is often overlooked by employers and organisations in their diversity and inclusion initiatives. Current diversity schemes, particularly within creative industries, are rarely nationwide. This leads to talented individuals having to miss out on opportunities if they don’t have the financial capital to travel to interviews. Due to high rent costs in London, many non-Londoners are also unable to commit to low-paid (minimum wage/ living wage) work experience, which those based in London can usually avoid incurring. For example, a female friend of mine, who is of English and Ghanaian heritage and from Manchester, was offered a videographer position in London. However, without the spatial or economic safety net of having family in London, she was forced to share the same bed with a friend in an AirBnB for months, in order to access this beneficial work experience.
While growth in both BAME and female participation in the creative economy has seen a steady increase over the years, it remains insufficient, with an overarching disadvantage posed to individuals in these groups outside of London. Companies such as the Amazon and BBC have attempted to close this gap in opportunity by financially assisting graduates in attending interviews and relocating. The BBC also offers multiple apprenticeships and traineeships in fields such as journalism, production, and communications across the country (Salford, London, Cardiff, Birmingham). Nonetheless, these are within general graduate schemes, not BAME-only schemes. Likewise, Harper Collins offers a BAME publishing traineeship, but there is no mention of assisting candidates with costs travelling to and from London. As a young black woman I’ve also seen few initiatives in the creative sectors which address gender and racial overlaps or even solely gender.
The dearth of both literature and initiatives regarding the intersections of these employments barriers amplifies the aforementioned anecdotal experiences to a national scale. So what can be done to address this multi-layered issue?
To start with, increased research into intersectional navigations of the job market is needed to help identify these issues in the first place, so they can be adequately addressed. As of today, Creative Access remains the only organisation in the UK which is dedicated to represent marginalised talent in the UK, nationwide. There is a real effort to diversify the geographic location of the opportunities they advertise and this is something which needs to be expanded to other recruiters and employers. Companies incorporating ethnic, gender and geographical diversity targets within their hiring practices for internships, traineeships and graduate schemes would help to level out the playing field for marginalised youth living outside of the capital. Furthermore, a nationwide redistribution of funding into creative fields would help to structurally rebalance this job aspect of the job market. Finally, more remote working opportunities could also work as a real solution to this problem. As a jobseeker, I have great anxiety about being able to find suitable work during this tough time – it was already hard enough before social distancing measures. However, through reaching out to platforms and organisations which work to advocate for people like me, I’ve been able to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Working as a long-term freelance creative in collaboration with a black female-led platform, I’m finally gaining the graduate level work experience that I critically need to advance my career while being able to work from home and postpone heavy commuting and relocation costs. Several business insiders predict a permanent increase in remote working environments after COVID-19. The financial benefits of saving on travel, office rent and personal accommodation, coupled with the environmental benefits of less pollution, appear to be promising signs of a permanent reorganisation of the way employees attend work.
hannah is a recent English Literature and History graduate. She is an award-winning writer, specialising in communications, and is passionate about discussions centring black women and the nuances within this identity. Connect with her on Instagram and on her blog.