I recently came to the realisation that I have been underestimating the role that the creative industries play within the UK’s wider economy. According to data published by UK Parliament last year, in 2019 the creative industries contributed an estimated £115.9 billion to the UK, accounting for 5.9 per cent of the UK economy. However, as reflected in the 2021 report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Creative Diversity, the benefits of this economic success are not equally shared. Racial and ethnic minorities are significantly underrepresented in these industries, particularly in senior decision-making roles and key creative professions.
As creatives, we can all agree that we crave spaces in which we can be authentic, be valued for our unique viewpoints, develop our skills and, of course, be remunerated accordingly. However, the aforementioned data shows that people of colour are not being selected for these high-paying key positions within the long-established organisations that are generating the billions recorded by parliament. This exclusion has forced many of us to spearhead or find refuge in safe spaces made by and for ourselves.
“It is not up to the people of colour you hire to do the heavy lifting.”Mary Ojidu
An example being our platform Ájífa, which is dedicated to championing the work of people of colour creatives. Our platform is unique in the current creative landscape, in that it has been created for the sole purpose of showcasing, equipping and nurturing diverse talent. Though I can agree there is a place for non-profit platforms like Ájífa, the onus should be on established creative organisations in the UK to actively recruit a more diverse workforce – especially since organisations are in the habit of profiting massively from the commercialisation of concepts from racial and ethnic minority groups.
Once recruited, creative organisations should also ensure that people of colour are actually included in substantial projects and decision making. A well-known analogy depicts diversity as having a seat at the table, and inclusion as also having a voice at that table. I have to emphasise that having a voice does not mean being solely positioned to take on the unpaid and laborious second job of being the organisation’s in-house know-it-all diversity genie. To be frank, the one ethnic minority junior member of staff on your team does not have all of the answers; they cannot magically fix everything and it is unfair to make them feel as though they should be able to. It’s exploitative, burdensome and mentally draining. Diversity and inclusion policies are ultimately implemented at the very top of organisations, as culture shifts begin with executives and subsequently trickle down to lower levels.
GalleryÁjífa: Portraits of Ao Dai: Part V, photographed by Chiron Duong (Copyright © Chiron Duong, 2022)
“One campaign is not enough. Black squares on Instagram are not enough. Cherry-picked, commercialised heritage and history months are not enough.”Mary Ojidu
As concluded in the 2021 APPG for Creative Diversity report, change begins with leadership and making sure that diversity and inclusion are not separate from the core business. All members of the organisation should be willing to learn about and address diversity issues. I reiterate, it is not up to the people of colour you hire to do the heavy lifting. It is important to remember that people of colour are often experiencing the effects of traumatic social issues in real time, and so do not always have the energy to offer commentary or an opinion. There are plenty of external resources to be utilised alongside self-initiated reading and research.
The fight to tackle racial and ethnic disparities within the creative industries cannot simply be a checkbox exercise or quick mention in the “any other business” section of the meeting agenda. It needs to be embedded in the organisation’s culture. This can only be done by taking an honest look at the internal data and developing actionable and effective ideas upon serious consideration of that data. The implemented strategies and resulting outcomes then need to be measured and monitored, as this is the only way for the organisation to truthfully gauge whether change has been successfully affected. As put by Collette Cork-Hurst, senior manager for diversity at Arts Council England, “It’s [about] having all of those elements in terms of data evidence, taking measurable action, evaluation and learning, and building on previous action.”
So, in other words, one campaign is not enough. Black squares on Instagram are not enough. Cherry-picked, commercialised heritage and history months are not enough. It’s easy to bury your head in the sand and do the bare minimum surface-level work. But to truly stand with and support people of colour creatives, you have to dig deep. Now, what you find might be ugly. There are all sorts of things lurking beneath the surface of organisations when you peel back the layers, from ignorance and unconscious bias to conscious bias and institutional racism. Ultimately, these issues can only be remedied by confronting them. This is the starting point for cultivating creative industries in which racially, ethnically and culturally diverse talent can prosper.
Ájífa: Tosin Kalejaye (Copyright © Tosin Kalejaye, 2022)