The problem with diversity and inclusion in the digital and creative industry

By April 23, 2019 Latest News No Comments

Ben Demba, strategic marketing assistant, Agent

Only 10.9 per cent of creative vacancies are filled by black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) candidates. This is not just failing our talent stream or our workplace, this is failing our clients.

As an industry, how can we effectively communicate with a public from whom our recruitment practices are making us more remote? Diversity isn’t just a tick-box exercise; for those of us in the business of insight and creativity, it’s a necessary means of bringing in a plurality of new ideas and understanding.

BIMA, the industry body for the digital industry, recognised the need for action and earlier this year facilitated a diversity and inclusion panel, which I was a part of. As a young mixed-race person who has taken an alternative route into the industry, here I share my take on the challenges we face and what needs to be done to increase the diversity of our talent streams.

The problems

Socio-economic factors that influence career choices disproportionately affect minorities. Our industry has relatively high start-up costs; the equipment and software needed to build skills is expensive. Being able to afford this gets you a head start while those from lower income backgrounds may not get a start at all.

A lack of role models. Bright kids are encouraged to do well, but if parents and teachers are not familiar with success in our industry and if role models are not there to provide these examples, talent will be pushed down alternative routes. Such is the demographic make-up of our industry that people from minorities are significantly less likely to have an auntie, cousin or sibling in our field to act as a model of success.

The way we hire and give opportunities is flawed. All hiring processes suffer from affinity bias, but in our industry, it seems to have been made institutional. People in creative employment are 50 per cent more likely to have a parent working in the same industry; when an opportunity for work experience or an internship comes up, how often does it go to the child of a colleague or client? Similarly, the process of unpaid internships means that opportunities are more available and achievable for those who can afford it.

So, what we can do about it?

Some of the work needs to be done in schools. They must address how they can provide opportunities to help students find their passion and facilitate their development regardless of their background. What we are trying to do is level the playing field, and access to equipment, software and good quality careers advice can help achieve this.

Learning in a digital-first school in the Baltic Triangle was key to my career decisions. Speakers from local digital and creative businesses demonstrated what I could achieve, industry-standard software and equipment gave the opportunity to try new things and opened up pathways that I was unaware of at my previous comprehensive.

As an industry, as companies and individually as leaders, how can we support this? What can you do in your community? Are you visiting schools, reaching out to young people, making just a small fraction of your time available as a mentor or source of industry knowledge? One thought sparked in someone’s mind can go on to kindle career aspirations and influence decisions.

How inclusive is your company?

Not taking action is accepting the status quo. Sometimes, you need to start with a difficult discussion. There is so much scrutiny around what is and isn’t politically correct in the media; this has created a paranoia that can stifle the conversation around diversity and inclusion. People would rather stay silent than say the wrong thing, but if the conversation isn’t being had then how can we start a process of change?

In 2014, Agent set up the Academy to tackle the skills gap and improve access to our industry in the North. Working through a live client project guided by insight from top agencies, Agent Academy gives young people from all backgrounds a step up into the digital and creative industries. It selects participants based on alternative criteria; soft skills that can be developed and competencies suited to the industry, which opens up opportunities to all, regardless of experience, qualifications or connections.

I progressed from Agent Academy into a full-time role at Agent. The programme gave me the tools and knowledge I that needed to apply my skills in real world scenarios. The Academy is about positive action to take away institutional barriers, and level out the playing field to plug our skills gap with a diverse range of talent.

More models like Agent Academy have the power to significantly increase the scale of this success, and help to create a digital and creative industry that fosters inclusivity and celebrates diversity. In a sector facing skills shortages, the incentives for industry to remove its barriers have never been greater. The onus is now on our current leaders to ensure that pathways to future leadership are open to all, creating an industry in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive.




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