Barriers to equity and diversity must not be rebuilt - Museums Association

Barriers to equity and diversity must not be rebuilt

Change is vital post-Covid
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Deborah Bull
Vice-president and vice-principal (London), and senior advisory fellow for culture at King’s College London
Chi Onwurah
Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne

Research recently published by the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre confirms what we all already knew: in the creative sector, it pays to be privileged.

People from privileged backgrounds are twice as likely to be employed in the creative industries than those from working-class backgrounds, and more than half of those in creative occupations are from middle-class origins. This puts cultural occupations right up there with doctors, barristers and judges as being some of the UK’s most exclusive jobs. 

For those already facing discrimination, these inequalities are even harsher. If you are middle-class and able-bodied, you are 2.7 times more likely to work in the creative sector than if you’re working-class and disabled. Middle-class and male? More than three times as likely as a working-class woman. Middle-class and white in London? Twice as likely as those from working-class, ethnic-minority backgrounds. Despite the best intentions of many, art is created by the few, for the few.

The creative sector has been one of the most profoundly affected by the pandemic. According to research from the Creative UK Group, music, performing and visual arts were the hardest hit – losing 80,000 jobs and an estimated £4bn in gross value added to the UK economy. Many businesses have been forced to shut down. Fewer jobs and creative organisations could mean fewer opportunities for underrepresented talent.

Evidence suggests that those who were already being denied access to opportunities – in terms of gender, disability, ethnicity and class background – are being impacted disproportionately. Without action, we risk exacerbating inequalities in the creative industries and an entire generation of talent – the future of the sector – could be lost.

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The need for structural change has never been greater. Despite decades of well-intentioned initiatives, diverse talent remains underrepresented. The pandemic has had a severe impact on the creative workforce, but it has shown that significant changes to the way we work are possible in a short timeframe.

We therefore need to know what works, and as co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group for creative diversity, that is exactly what we wanted to set out in our new report, Creative Majority.

Produced with academics from King’s College London and the University of Edinburgh, the report is the culmination of 18 months of research into what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to boosting equity, diversity and inclusion in the creative sector. It compiles evidence from academic literature on interventions that have been shown to produce results.

We’ve also spoken to people across the sector about how we can plot a path out of this crisis, based on lived experience and effective practice. This has ranged from disabled musicians and Black actors to recent interns and those with decades of leadership experience in the arts. 

Creative Majority sets out what can be learned from other sectors to transform the creative labour forces of the future. From maths to medicine, and engineering to education, our report brings together the best evidence of effective equality, diversity and inclusion practices, so we can learn from all corners of the economy – domestically and globally.

The result is a series of actionable recommendations for policymakers and creative businesses and organisations built around “five As”: accountability, ambition, adaptability, allyship and accessibility.

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For the government, recommendations include working with arm’s-length bodies such as Arts Council England and the British Film Institute to make public funding across the sector subject to strict compliance with the Equality Act 2010. The legislation exists to promote equal opportunities, but in many cases it is not being adequately enforced.

For creative practitioners, we have set out practical steps and tools to support action for change. From sponsorship programmes to inclusion audits, flexible work to the eradication of unpaid internships, the report provides a framework for effective practice and standards against which businesses can measure progress.

The research detailed in our report shows that change is required at every level of creative businesses, funding and commissioning plans. This demands bold and visionary leadership in government and within businesses.

As the creative industries recover, it is essential we do not rebuild the same barriers to equity, diversity and inclusion that existed before Covid. Understanding what works is a vital first step. It won’t be easy, but the rewards will be great: a creative workforce and audiences that include, represent and benefit from the talents of the glorious diversity of our creative country. 

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