Recruitment processes and unpaid internships blamed for lack of diversity in creative industries

Think-tank report reveals women, ethnic minorities and working-class candidates still being blocked from entry-level positions despite job growth

Recruitment processes are locking out young people – particularly women and those from minority ethnic groups and working-class backgrounds – from jobs in the creative industries, a study has found.

Research by the think tank the Centre for London found the capital has failed to diversify its workforce despite significant job growth over the last six years.

It said unpaid internships, unstructured career paths and the need for established networks were preventing disadvantaged groups from entering the sector.

In a report into social mobility in the arts, the think tank said black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups accounted for just 23 per cent of employees in the sector, despite accounting for 40 per cent of the capital’s population.

This dropped even further at the higher end of the sector, with BAME groups accounting for just 14 per cent of managers, directors and senior officials.

This trend is mirrored by women, who are well-represented in mid- to low-level roles, accounting for 58 per cent of employees, but this dropped to just 30 per cent at manager, director and senior official levels.

The report added that just 5 per cent of employees in the sector were from less advantaged backgrounds.

Mario Washington-Ihieme, researcher at the Centre for London, said: “Sadly, it is still who you know, not what you know, that counts. And being unable to afford unpaid internships or unstable freelance work makes it harder still to get a job in the sector.

“Ultimately, if people in positions of power continue to hire people who are predominantly ‘like’ them, the creative industries will continue to miss out. London’s culture club needs to open its doors.”

Dr Rebecca Montacute, research fellow at the Sutton Trust, said disadvantaged young people faced similar barriers in all industries, but that the arts sector was one of the worst.

Last year, the trust published research that found more than a quarter (27 per cent) of university graduates had undertaken an unpaid internship, and put the price of working unpaid at £1,100 a month in London and £885 a month in Manchester.

Speaking to People Management, Montacute said most of the unpaid internships that were available were very likely to be illegal, because of the expectation that interns will do work for their employer.

She added the arts had one of the highest levels of paying less than the minimum wage to people undertaking internships, at 85 per cent, and added that a third (33 per cent) of those who had done internships in the arts sector had been through three placements.

Working-class graduates were also underrepresented in internships across the sector compared to other industries, and across the board those doing internships in the arts had a higher rate of unemployment and some of the lowest salaries after their placement.

A lack of networks was highlighted as an issue by both the Centre for London and by Montacute, who pointed out that many opportunities are never openly advertised.

If taking on an intern, Montacute said businesses should ensure all positions are openly advertised “to make sure [...] that they have access to all of the possible talent that could be working in their business”.

Montacute added that the quality of internships is also an issue. In a study that looked at five markers of quality in internships, including adequate training and monitoring, job rotation, workplace mentoring, a learning plan and post-internship follow-ups, the Sutton Trust found over a third (34 per cent) of the placements they looked at had none of these.

“This may be playing into why many people end up not in employment or on a very low salary after doing them. Not only are these people not being paid, but they’re not very getting much out of it,” she said.