The diversity challenge: how to break into and stay in the creative industries

The jobs market for new graduates is tough in general at the moment, but is even more challenging for BIPOC graduates, says Leonie Annor-Owiredu. Here she offers some advice for what both grads and the industry can do to help

When I, like many other BIPOC graduates, decided to pursue a career in the creative industries, I was well aware of the difficulties that would occur to get in and stay in. The messages are clear throughout the university experience by the lack of representation in lecturers, or the little representation of others who looked like me during placements. It was clear that by choosing a career in the creative industries I would need to be the change in the space that I wanted to see.

We know that the creative industries are infamous for their lack of diversity, with the majority of diversity plans failing to succeed on promises to ensure better representation that not only recruits but aims to effectively retain staff.

The problem is circular: “The lack of BAME representation in our industry, especially in leadership, makes it less attractive to BAME talent, which then affects talent acquisition,” says Ete Davies, CEO of Engine Creative in Campaign. “The situation perpetuates itself and then you get ‘diversity churn’.”

THE IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS ON GRAD SCHEMES

For many, entry into the creative industries comes in the forms of graduate schemes, placements or internships that are specifically calling for BIPOC talent. But as coronavirus hit and job security left, many were just entering the industry when their placements were stopped.

According to a report from Creative Access and Campaign, “since the crisis, 85% of current trainees say they are either not being kept on after their internship or are unsure if they will be. Before Covid-19, 90% of trainees moved on to full-time work at the end of their positions.”

So in this challenging environment, how can we better equip the newest generation of BIPOC creatives for the industry as we continue to find our way in a post-Covid world?

What uni doesn’t tell you is that finding your feet in the industry isn’t a linear process, even if you’ve secured a graduate scheme placement that Covid-19 hasn’t scrapped, or have planned to take some time off. There are no amount of lectures that can prepare you for the realities of jobhunting in the industries, but here are some things I wish I’d known before I started:

SHARE YOUR WORK

A common phrase that you will come across when interviewing or having #virtualcoffees is that people want to “see how you think”. The creative industries are mostly visual, so while you may be a great graphic designer or writer, you will need more to show for yourself than your great university grade alone.

This is a great opportunity to shape where you would like to go. “Use the time to be introspective and ask yourself what do you actually enjoy doing by looking at your interests as a starting point to work out what direction you want to be going,” says visual designer Israel Kujore. Since his placement was stopped due to the pandemic he’s been sharing his work on social and gained wide attention.

“It’s important now to be sharing your work,” Kujore says. “In the short time that I’ve been putting out work, it’s brought opportunities my way. My tutor in uni used to say, ‘an idea is nothing in your head’. Try to find the balance with making the most of social media and taking time out.”

FIND YOUR TRIBE AND NETWORK

“I’m interested in the idea of blue-collar creatives, so people who are not senior but not necessarily junior and how we can create together,” says Jamiel Thompson of @londonlovelockdown, a BIPOC-led digital networking account that fosters community online. “I think working from your culture gives you strength.”

Pushing aside all of the cringey #squadgoals hashtags that brands and socials want you to buy into, it’s important to build a relationship with peers across disciplines that you can relate to and collaborate with during this period and beyond.

BUILD A PORTFOLIO

“When you’re in university you have to stick to a brief and the work that you’re given is not diverse. Take time to explore what appeals to your interests. Create your own briefs that appeal to you and create work that you want to see,” suggests Nicole Crenstil, co- founder of Black Girl Fest.

However, be prepared that the industry may not be ready to receive this work: it’s important to find advocates to help champion your ideas.

WORK OUT YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH

When you’ve graduated it’s typical for you to sell yourself as a graduate, but it is important to describe yourself as how you would like to be seen. Being part of the ‘Slash Generation’ could mean that you have many skills and hats that you wear. Whittle them down to two or three sentences so when you’re asked what do you, it’s clear.

WHAT THE INDUSTRY CAN DO

While it’s important that new grads prepare themselves as much as possible for entry into the industry, adland must actively seek BIPOC creative work through making a conscious decision to engage with their efforts. This can take shape in many forms such as offering mentoring opportunities and portfolio reviews. There must be intention between both parties in order to establish an inclusivity that isn’t just a hashtag.

But most of all, whether you’re a recent graduate or recently unemployed BIPOC: think about how you can pull from your culture and interests, as the future is yours and your insight is your currency.

Top image: Symone Barden; Leonie Annor-Owiredu is a cultural strategist and writer; thisisdiversityinaction.com

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes