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4. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the CCI – as Formation and Challenge

Published onNov 29, 2023
4. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the CCI – as Formation and Challenge


This paper provides an overview of DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) in the UK’s Creative and Cultural Industries (CCI), commenting on the empirical status quo, policy and current state of research.

The creative sector is continuously evolving, and societal awareness plays a crucial role in shaping the industry's future. It is widely agreed that diversity is one of the key pillars for ensuring a strong, healthy and sustainable creative sector. Diversity, in its empirical form, is the presence of lived multiculture shaped by shifting social, political, economic and technological environments. Recently, this has been permeated by an emerging polycrisis stemming from austerity, Brexit and Covid-19, which have each had differential levels of impact within this lived multiculture, as well as on the institutional story of diversity in the CCI.

In the UK, the term ‘DEI’ is a quite recent articulation of ‘diversity’ within a CCI that has, over the past twenty or so years, positioned diversity as a cornerstone of cultural policy and a key trope within CCI organisational discourse. Since the mapping of the Creative Industries in 1998 as part of a centrist-Left New Labour project, diversity has been architected as top-down national strategy, to position social cohesion and diversity of thought as modes of social and cultural value.

We can think of diversity in two main ways: market diversity, which is the spaces, outputs and providers within the ecology encompassing a broad range of CCI subsectors; and representations of diversity, which covers portrayal and workforce within the CCI. As described in this paper, the conflation of these has led to an overarching and ambitious narrative of diversity to promote tolerance, boost export development, support economy and innovation, address skills shortages, provide equality of opportunity, and reduce inequalities across: content and representation, workforce demographic, and organisational culture.

The CCI has been at the forefront of the DEI agenda, ahead of other parts of the UK economy. This makes the CCI a fertile site for understanding formations of DEI, but also because the CCI is underpinned by assumptions of its flexible, diverse and meritocratic nature: a cultural ‘ecosystem’. This implies that the CCI functions in egalitarian and organic ways. In fact, the CCI is a social site where relations of power and inequalities are produced and sustained, and functions as a managed operating system that develops over time. Cultural policy research has asserted that when we consider DEI in the CCI, we therefore have to address the matter of inequality (see O’Brien and Oakley, 2015); and understand the CCI as organisational spaces that are practiced as hierarchical and unequal, resulting in a problematic diversity/inequality complex.

Beyond the UK, and in a post-Brexit context, cultural diversity within the creative economy is widely considered as a core part of civic life and representational rights, as well as part of our national and European future contexts. The UK context constitutes a particularly salient example for ‘diversifying the creative’ because it is widely perceived to be ahead of the curve compared to other parts of Europe when it comes to developing frameworks ‘for mediating, and being held to mediate, lived multiculture’ (Titley, 2014: 247). The UK’s long multicultural history, shaped by the legacies of Empire, has broadly been underpinned by strong, ‘British’ liberal intentions aspiring to diversify cultural access, participation, and representation. Public service media has been acclaimed as a shining example in this regard, but so too has the UK’s established record of participatory modes of creative practice and new radical forms of creative expression which have overlapped with diasporic arts and culture by moving from source and tradition to occupy one of the most dynamic aspects of cultural globalisation.

Whilst we might understand ‘crisis’ as socially constructed (Hall, 1978), this is a conjunction that is materially and differentially experienced, inaugurating new pressures and demands on the CCI. How is diversity to be (re)designed to contend with new kinds of precarity, fragility and political contestation around struggles over the settlement of rights? On the one hand, and in spite of the verifiable ‘lived multiculture’, Brexit has imposed deeply unsettled feelings of belonging for many UK citizens who are also witnessing a mainstreaming of anti-multiculturalism rhetoric in today’s UK politics, a rhetoric that many parts of the UK press actively help frame. On the other, powerful responses and resistances have lobbied for change through social movements such as #OscarsSoWhite, #MeToo and #Black Lives Matter (BLM) (BLM following the murder of George Floyd in the US in 2020), seeking a variety of forms of social justice. This has provided new opportunities for the CCI to respond to the cultural vitality that is often overlooked within racially marginalised (global majority) communities, and look inwards at its institutionalised practices that structure the social organisation of race inequality. Throughout these challenges and transitions, the CCI and many of those who work within it have demonstrated remarkable capacity and resilience, but the institutional modality of CCI diversity has proven to be dislocated from lived multiculture in its heterogenous form. A benign mainstream diversity project sits in tension both with a centre-ground anti-multiculturalist sentiment and the systemic forms of sector exclusions that have been found to exist.

The first part of the paper therefore focuses on the formation of ‘diversity’ as a policy discourse and the second part identifies some of the major challenges that emerge from this formation, primarily focusing on workforce representation.

The paper is broadly structured around two questions:

1.     How are societal concerns around DEI articulated in the CCI?

2.     What are the major DEI-related challenges that the CCI face today?

These questions are addressed by examining the CCI in an expansive sense, though the analytical foci are the UK Screen Industries, with race/ethnicity applied as an example of a particular DEI concern.


Race and Ethnicity in the Screen Sector

The UK Screen Industries is a creative subsector that falls within the ‘Film, TV, video, radio and photography’ category, as defined by the UK Government’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in its Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes. The subsector has been identified as being ‘ahead’ of other creative subsectors when it comes to DEI practices including target-setting and data reporting (Eikhof, 2023). Therefore, it is useful to consider what DEI strategies the screen sector has deployed, how these have been articulated and what challenges it faces. Since one of the wider criticisms of the CCI is that it has lacked cross-sector collaboration, not always shared good practice across subsectors or effectively measure what does or does not ‘work’, with regards to DEI outcomes, zooming in on the screen sector can potentially yield helpful insights for other subsectors and national contexts. The screen sector also offers a particular utility when it comes to considering DEI, as it encompasses a range of socio-economic models spanning public and private media, involving state and non-state actors. This enables us to think about how DEI is negotiated alongside social and economic requirements and make sense of the discursive re-orientation from ‘citizen’ to ‘consumer’, best captured in the ambivalence of the sector-wide regulator, Office of Communications (Ofcom)’s concept of ‘citizen-consumer’.

DEI in the screen sector is most applied, for example in policy and target-setting, to ‘sex/gender and race/ethnicity’ (Eikhof, 2023: 18).[1] Within sociological measures of inequality, the UK’s racially marginalised population has experienced everyday race-based discrimination across parts of UK society. Consequently, the UK’s Black and Brown communities[2], have for many decades mobilised a dual politics calling for recognition and institutional change that has asserted the need for better representational rights and access, insisting that ‘culture’ has real social effects. The formation of Channel 4 in 1982 is held as a beacon for its diverse content that resulted from a redirection of state funding towards supporting values of freedom and democracy following a series of race rebellions in the few years preceding the Channel’s arrival. Historically, public service broadcasting (PSB) has been a key target of such calls for action, given its guiding democratising, unifying principles of informing, educating and informing all parts of the nation. PSB is tasked therefore with being ‘representative’, whilst grappling with the nuances of living with difference in a multicultural, if not multiculturalist, society. The power of culture is therefore implicitly recognised, and the CCI acknowledged as a productive site from which to mount challenge.

It is useful to highlight a few points at this stage: first, there are variations within and across parts of the ‘Film, TV, video, radio and photography’ subsector when it comes to the formation, articulation and challenges of implementing DEI. Second, experiences differ between minority ethnic groups who occupy a heterogenous space of experiential and empirical realities in which distinct forms of racisms exacerbate variations in cross-sub sector comparisons. And third, since lived diversity is multi-dimensional, race and ethnicity cannot be easily separated from other characteristics such as socio-economic background, disability, sex, gender, sexual orientation or age, because it can involve intersectional[3] (‘diversity within’) dimensions of social inequality.

According to UK Government (2023) data about the UK's ethnic composition, approximately ‘82% of people in England and Wales are white, and 18% belong to a black, Asian, mixed or other ethnic group (2021 Census data)’. The DCMS Sector Economic Estimates: Workforce, 2021 found that, whilst there is great variation in demographic representation between different creative subsectors, women occupy 44.5% of jobs (excluding Tourism) compared to making up 48.1% of the overall population (DCMS 2022). 13.2% of these classified as being part of a minority ethnic group (excluding white minorities) and 15.0% by those with a disability. DCMS (2022) also found a similar representation of minority ethnic groups (excluding white minorities), and of individuals with a disability under the Equality Act 2010, to that of the UK workforce overall (13.1% and 15.4% respectively).

Analysis of UK-focused data suggests that the creative economy and jobs for minority ethnic people in the CCI are expanding, even in the aftermath of crisis (see for example Brook et al. 2023 regarding the data on graduates seeking core creative work). A specific look at individual sectors within the CCI shows contradictions and tensions in the levels of workforce diversity across individual sectors (Malik and Shankley, 2020). The 2019 ONS Labour Force Survey indicates that the percentage of White people working in ‘Film, TV, video and radio’ is 91%, compared to 87% of the overall entire workforce (Brook et al. 2020); this suggests a less stark ethnic inequality than other subsectors, such as publishing, which have a larger percentage of White representation (Saha and van Lente, 2022). Within the screen sector, DEI targets are routinely set around three areas of representation of individuals with certain protected characteristics, including race/ethnicity: off screen (workforce), on-screen (content) and participation (in training programmes of interventions) (Eikhof, 2023). Workforce targets for race/ethnicity off-screen have increased to 15-20% in London, which has a higher-than-average level of ethnic diversity and CCI presence, sometimes setting a target of 40% (Eikhof, 2023).

Recent figures from DCMS (2022) show that in the Digital Sector, the minority ethnic (excluding white minorities) share exceeds the UK workforce average, but this comes mainly from a high proportion of workers identifying as Asian/Asian British in the sector (10.6% vs 6.9% for the UK) and who may be in ‘non-creative’ job roles. The Digital Sector and Creative Sector share subsectors such as ‘IT, software and computer services’ and ‘Computer programming, consultancy and related activities’ which accounts for that proportion of workers identifying as Asian/Asian British. The Digital Sector also had the smallest representation of women and people with a disability (DCMS, 2022).

Beneath the data

What the ‘headline’ findings about workforce diversity do not specify is where inequalities, variations and barriers reside within DCMS sectors, for example in pay gaps, barriers to entry and working cultures that also take on different levels of acuteness at local, regional and national levels. CCI researchers have responded to this challenge through collaborative, cross-sectoral qualitative research (with academic, industry, public and third sectors). Outputs have included the gathering and dissemination of interview data, direct testimonies, labour force data and case studies from across the CCI and within specific sub sectors, from podcasting to publishing.

When drilling down into the available data and engaging in analysis over time, CCI research has also helped to identify not just the fluctuations and unevenness in where various social groups are represented in the workforce demographic, but how cultural workers negotiate their work in the CCI – challenging any idea that diversity follows a simple progress model or merely has utility as an accounting tool. 

A review by CAMEo (2018) examined the socio-demographic profile and found that minority ethnic employment across the screen sector had steadily declined between 2006 and 2012, from 7.4% to 5.4%, with different levels of minority ethnic workers in different sectors. Cobb et al.’s (2015: 1) study of the British film industry found for example that Black, Asian and minority ethnic women represent less than 1.5% of all personnel working in six key roles. Liddy et al. (2022: 752) offer qualitative insights into EDI in the Irish screen industries asserting that ‘visionary leadership from the top down’, along with government-supported dedicated resources are needed to effectively embed diversity in the screen industries.

Moody (2017) provides a contextual analysis of the UK Film Council’s ‘cultural diversity agenda’ and the decision-making processes behind diversity approaches at the UK’s then national body for film production (2000-2011) which helps to understand the experiences and interactions beyond the data, and the limitations of a policy that conflates ‘social’ questions of equality with commercialisation. This is a claim supported by Newsinger and Eikhof (2020), who suggest that the business case for diversity (as a form of what they describe as explicit cultural policy) undermines arguments for equality that are rooted in social justice (the basis for what they describe as implicit cultural policy).

There have been important interventions by researchers proposing that the social and moral dimensions of diversity can be usefully foregrounded when devising DEI policy. In their Creative Majority report (Wreyford et al. 2021), the Creative Diversity All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG)/Creative Policy Evidence Centre propose five benchmarks: allyship, accessibility, adaptable tools, and accountability, to deliver immediate and long-term change in the media industry. These are targeted at government, business, and organisations. The report (also cited later in relation to its consideration of Covid-19 impacts on the CCI) followed the formation of the APPG for Creative Diversity in 2019 and emphasises the need for leadership and collective responsibility in the diversity space.

Research contributions and gaps

The current state of academic research provides significant weight and theory-relevant insights. In terms of the disciplinary configurations, much of the literature has stemmed from Sociology, Business and Organisational Studies, Geography, Media and Cultural Studies and Screen Studies, signalling the interdisciplinarity of the area and its thematic concerns, as well as an exciting situatedness of knowledges across a range of disciplinary dimensions. An analytical distinction can be made between industry-led diversity discourse and scholarly approaches, the latter of which has systematically addressed, in Titley’s words, ‘diversity of ownership and control of the distribution of communicative resources and power and, ultimately, the pluralism of the mediated spectrum of information, opinion, perspective and values and its salience to citizenship and democratic participation.’ (Titley 2014: 247).

There are gaps, as well as opportunities within the research base. For example, there is inconsistency in the use of terminology and variation of categories applied, as well as a lack of research that connects similarities and differences across creative subsectors and intersectional aspects or characteristics of social and cultural identity (for example, sex and gender, disability, race and social class) that shape and complicate inequality.[4] The focus has tended to be on the mainstream CCI rather than on production and representation within independent, alternative or community-based creative subsectors. In fact, these ‘alternative’ spaces help make the case for a diversity that can be successfully mobilised, managed and ‘delivered’ within alternative, typically micro sites of creative production, as was previously the case with the UK independent film workshop movement primarily in the 1980s. As Malik et al. (2017) point out, the value of so-called ‘grassroots’ creative production practices such as community filmmaking (that tend to be small, under-capitalised, micro-businesses) can be measured according to their potential for creating new social and economic models for otherwise marginalised activities and actors to both participate in creative production and broaden access to knowledge and skills in creative spaces. Within their study, cultural diversity is generated as a mediated process that can be strengthened by civic agency and collaborative, participatory modes of production that create new, ‘bottom-up’ symbolic spaces.

The formation of ‘diversity’ as discourse

One of the key provocations to industry surfaces within the diversity-critical literature, pointing to the disconnect between DEI policy and DEI practice. On the one hand, this work has pointed to the prevalence, even ubiquity, of the diversity-creative paradigm’s talk about inequality and its normalisation within cultural policy frames. On the other, it identifies ongoing patterns of inequality which calls into question the real effects of industrialised diversity in producing meaningful change to level the field for all the UK’s communities. It is argued that, because diversity initiatives and sector inequalities co-exist, ‘diversity’ (as a form of evolving discourse) does the work of maintaining structural inequalities.

As the CCI has grown, so too has research on inequalities in the sector, analysing how different social groups have been involved in, represented by, and experience the CCI, as well as how policy responses have been devised, framed and acted on. It is even suggested that the widespread image of the CCI as a site of openness, becomes a mechanism for concealing its empirical realities that include deep inequalities based on race/ethnicity, gender, disability, social class and other protected characteristics (Gill, 2014). The task of ‘managing diversity’ has therefore been identified as a form of organisational performance that routinely fails to deliver the changes it promises, keeping unequal power relations within the CCI intact. Sara Ahmed’s analysis of the concept of ‘inclusion’, suggests the ‘work’ of diversity upholds institutional whiteness, obscures racism and provides a useful evidence-base (for institutions) that they are beyond racism because of their hyper-visible, active defence of diversity (Ahmed, 2012). According to these analyses, it is not so much that diversity does nothing, it is that diversity does much – but not according to its claims.

Oswick and Noon’s (2014) bibliometric analysis maps how the ‘discourse of equality’ that dominated throughout the 1970s - early 1990s) was overtaken by a ‘diversity discourse’, stemming from within industry, from the early to mid-1990s. Their research anticipated a ‘rhetorical distancing from diversity’ that will be overtaken by the rise of inclusivity discourse within management contexts, a prophecy that has been realised within diversity critiques and a subsequent move to ‘inclusion’ (DEI) in the latest discursive framing.

Within this field of critical diversity studies, Malik (2013) has traced how ‘diversity’ has been constructed through the language of cultural policy over time. A shift can be identified, away from earlier incarnations of DEI predicated on structural forces underpinning inequality, towards a focus on the more universalist principle of ‘diversity’ – and, we might now say, ‘inclusion’ – though not explicitly grappling with systemic social conditions (Ahmed and Swan, 2006; Ahmed, 2012; Malik, 2013; Nwonka and Malik, 2021). Related specifically to diversity in PSB contexts, Malik (2013) argues that the term ‘creative diversity’ has become a dominant frame, away from multicultural and anti-racist policy frames in the 1970s to mid-1990s and towards economic rationalism. Malik says this signifies a post-multiculturalist, falsely post-racial understanding, stemming from post-racial rhetoric, not (in other ways) post-racial society. Malik ties this to the creative marketisation of television and multiculture accommodated by a wider shift from state to market in public provision in the early 2000s.

The business case for diversity functions as a key driver within the creative economy such that it actively obscures and depoliticises the representational aspects of ‘race’ (Malik, 2013; Titley, 2014). These analyses do not simply identify a crude commercial overriding of the cultural/moral/social, but also a tension between different forms of moral imperative in the latter. Here, a distinction is made between diversity (for some, a form of liberal anti-racism) and anti-racism in policy-making where diversity acts as a remedial measure to address under-representation, while anti-racism takes a more interventionist and structurally focused approach (Nwonka and Malik, 2021).

The emphasis on diversity as discourse, a rhetorical device that is socially formed and an evolving dimension of the social fabric of the CCI, unsettles the idea that its mere presence simply translates into diverse outcomes. This links to the literature on cultural policy as a form of political instrumentalisation, reflecting how art and culture more broadly, are geared towards external cultural and commercial goals present in other parts of society. The ‘instrumentality discourse’ identifies how culture has been tied to aspirations linked to health and wellbeing, environment and social cohesion (Røyseng 2008). Røyseng focuses their analysis (within the Norwegian context) on cultural diversity as a significant goal; using this as an example of ‘ritual cultural policy’ underpinned by a ‘belief in the transformative power of art and culture’ (2008, 10); a utopic impulse that situates art and culture as innately positive, and as a vehicle to deliver social impacts. Building on critiques of the easy idea of art and culture’s transformative potential, we might classify DEI as a key form of ‘ritual cultural policy’ that is configured around, even hinged on, hope.

Connected to these interventions and formations is a set of challenges faced by the CCI which the paper now goes on to describe, continuing with the analytical foci on race/ethnicity in the Screen sector.

As many critical CCI scholars have surmised, the CCI themselves benefit from actively promoting diversity and inclusion, but the true benefit is in implementing equitable practices.

This section points to some of the major DEI-related challenges facing the CCI that can be connected to the ‘diversity’ formation discussed in the first section. These challenges might be grouped into 5 broad areas:

·       Negotiating social and economic goals

·       Skills, education, networks and opportunities

·       Industrial conditions and cultures

·       Data practices, capture and accountability

·       Heterogeneity, intersectionality and lived diversity

Diversity for what? Negotiating social and economic goals

One of the key challenges is the question of where ‘diversity’ and the DEI agenda more specifically sits within a wider UK creative economy. This is because the creative economy has multiple dimensions, and ‘creativity’ itself overlaps across a range of government departmental structures and strategies, including industrial, education, technology, economic and culture. The United Nations (2008) Creative Economy Report signalled these various interfaces and the UK’s two-pronged approach where the value opportunity of the creative economy spans culture and commerce, and this has carried through into interventions such as the 2018 Sector Deal between government and CCI as part of industrial strategy.

As outlined, the case for DEI moves between civic, moral and social arguments (widening access, equality of opportunity, geographical distribution of opportunity, promoting social inclusion, cultural diversity and human development) to more market-oriented ones (boosting the economy and innovation, diversification of talent and audiences, addressing skills gaps and shortages, mainstreaming of diversity). DEI is now vernacularised within CCI, but there are times when it is marked off from other strategic, budgetary, resourcing and governance frameworks, separated from core business and development.

Commercial players in the CCI have come to view engaging with diversity issues as one way of diversifying the audiences they target and in turn maximise profit, as seen with subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services, such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video. This business case for diversity has also been complemented by an emphasis on ‘diversity of thought’ as an asset for commercial growth and export development, especially for reaching new markets. Even in a highly competitive global environment, the UK screen sector, including both linear and on-demand television, has shown immense resilience, acting as a key site for demonstrating to the world its distinctive (multicultural) value. To this extent, it has, even within a stark cost of living crisis and political turmoil, responding well to the UK Government’s aspirations of ‘Global Britain’ and is well aligned with the Creative Industries Sector Vision (2023). The global power of the UK CCI has been recognised in the Soft Power index (Portland, 2023), with cultural organisations such as the BBC’s World Service (which has faced serious funding cuts following the BBC licence-fee freeze since 2022) linked to positive perceptions of the UK, and scripted drama as a key driver of international exports for UK companies (PACT 2022). The UK’s globally acclaimed PSB is a key site where ‘diversity is practiced materially and symbolically’ (Gray, 2016: 242), adding a new dimension to diversity imperatives that have also helped shape European policies including those targeted at managing diasporic differences in the cultural space (Malik, 2010). For all this, the squeeze on public funding and one might say ideological threats on PSB (threats of Channel 4 being privatised and to the BBC licence-fee) form part of the conditions in which diversity is being navigated.

Running concurrently, the BLM movement renewed the focus back to racial justice, structural racism and anti-racism and catalysed highly visible Industry-wide Commitments within the UK CCI (Ali et al., 2022). Now, the moral case for diversifying the field was underpinned by an assertive commitment in the CCI to address anti-Black racism and provide space for dialogue and action. Despite such hyper visible proclamations, changes have been slow to follow. Combined with the parallel impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit, research has found that ethnically diverse creative workers are currently facing a range of negative impacts including in terms of increased precarity, barriers to entry, progression, and retention, race and religious-based discrimination and negative effects on mental health (Ali et al., 2022).

Skills, education, networks and opportunities

One of the major contributing factors to the acute skills shortage in the sector, is a lack of diversity and inclusion in practice. There are spatial considerations, including the dominance of CCI employment in London and the Greater South East (London, East and South East of England), and which is also more ethnically-diverse than other parts of the UK. There has been a failure to sufficiently extend growth to creative clusters outside of the capital which has acted as a hindrance to attracting and retaining diverse skills from diverse communities across the UK, as well as to networking opportunities and regional growth.[5] The relocations to the North of England for parts of Channel 4 and the BBC are interesting recent examples of how funding is being allocated outside of London to reorganise, perhaps repair, growth and meet the CCI’s social mobility aspirations.

There remains a strong emphasis in diversity policies and programmes on skills, with the reason for under-representation of diverse talent commonly attributed to a lack of relevant education, training and skills. This over-emphasis places the onus on individuals rather than on organisational structures that might prohibit skills development or indeed, the recognition of skills that exist. Diversity initiatives and schemes based on training and upskilling now coincide with the growth of high-skilled roles and the need for ‘fusion’ skills (Carey et al. 2023).

These tend to concentrate on young, emerging talent, although there is a long history of arts and media practitioners, including in the screen industry, that are routinely overlooked but have the potential to contribute to the CCI skills base (Nwonka and Malik, 2021). Although creative arts and media education is not mandatory for entry into all aspects of the CCI, the de-valuing of such education within UK Government Education policies (sometimes positioned using populist rhetoric as ‘rip-off’ degrees) locates it as high-risk, thus reducing social mobility for those with less financial security. There is a mismatch between skills and education, and how some parts of the arts education sector such as drama schools are found to be particularly exclusionary and lacking in diversity, especially at the intersections of race/ethnicity and social class (where we might think of race as class). This has impacts on the skills pipeline and the transition into the various CCI sectors of the labour market, often reproducing the ethnic inequalities and norms of the wider workforce throughout career trajectories. Having said that, recent data from the ONS Longitudinal Study has been analysed to find that racially minoritised graduates are in fact not shown to have less chance of securing core creative work compared to White graduates (Brook et al., 2023), suggesting the picture is not clear-cut, as the authors themselves note.

The recent set of crises has exacerbated the fragility of cultural work in an already precarious sector that is characterised by the low-paid precarious work, freelance, casual and internship labour and short-term contracts that disproportionately impacts on minority ethnic workers and aspiring workers. Economic, social and cultural resources have helped support new entrants in sustaining these conditions (Brook et al., 2020). The CCI has long had an internal industrial culture where creative workers, particularly new entrants, have to subsidise their creative work with parallel work outside the CCI. These insecure working practices and conditions are more acute for minority ethnic people who, while they make up 15% of the UK population, account for 26% of those in deep poverty, with the UK having one of the highest levels of income inequality in Europe (Edmiston et al., 2022; The Equality Trust, 2023).

Access to the creative sector often requires following an unofficial route, which includes unpaid internships and utilising social networks to gain entry via contacts already working in the sector. Minority ethnic people are less likely to have the same financial capital (and thus capacity for risk) as white groups to resource these routes, notwithstanding the widespread variations in the social, cultural and economic aspects of capital within the UK’s minority ethnic population that shapes networks and opportunities, and can also conceal forms of privilege. Entrants to the CCI are however predominantly from financially privileged backgrounds and have access to the economic capital to be able to undertake internships and cope with fragmented employment and unstable wages (Friedman et al., 2017). Consequently, many of the sectors exist as predominantly white spaces where exclusionary mechanisms inhibit minority ethnic entry, and potentially effect attrition, retention, promotion and career progression although data is lacking in this area.

Industrial conditions and cultures

Academic research, while acknowledging some of the gains that can be made from training, mentoring and other diversity schemes, calls for the need to supplement these with  more ‘systemic initiatives’ (CAMEo 2018, 46). Drawing on Ahearne’s (2009) model of ‘explicit and implicit cultural policy’, Newsinger and Eikhof (2020) explore the dynamic between policies and outcomes in the screen sector’s workforce demographic. They suggest that implicit diversity policies such as ‘deployment practices, conceptualisations of diversity and justifications for diversity constrain or even undermine the diversity outcomes explicit diversity policy can achieve’, with explicit diversity policies prioritising ‘empowering interventions over transformational ones’ (24).

Just as having DEI policies does not simply translate to positive DEI outcomes, there is scant evidence that having a more diverse workforce holds guarantees for ‘better’ representation in content or resolving perceived deficits in representation. And yet strategies still frequently revolve around the assumption that increasing the ethnic diversity of the workplace necessarily produces an increase or ‘improvement’ in the ethnic diversity of the content produced. This builds an implicit link between employment and editorial practices and makes the case for the efficacy of a ‘counting heads’ approach to diversity in the CCI.

Data capture based exclusively on socio-demographic profile does not give us the full picture. For example, what kinds of creative (or ‘non-creative’) roles are occupied by whom and how are different protected characteristics represented in strategic and decision-making positions? While recent statistics highlight that a lack of ethnic diversity is endemic across the CCI, a survey by Arts Council England (2019) examined the nature of diversity of decision makers and those in senior positions in the CCI. These roles included the Chief Executives, Artistic Directors and Chairs of organisations. The Arts Council England (2019) report examined 663 arts organisations in its national portfolio, with only 9% of chief executives, 12% of artistic directors and 10% of chairs of organisations coming from a minority ethnic background. Ofcom found in 2019 that, minority ethnic employees in leadership roles had only slightly increased in one year, from 7% to 8%” (Ofcom, 2019).

Perhaps more significantly, there is the question of what cultural workers, ‘leaders’ or otherwise, do when in their position and what it takes to be there, linking to questions of power and authority. Even though ethnic diversity in certain organisations can increase, minority ethnic workers too can revert to modes of cultural production that depend on familiar, racialised representations, ‘thereby reproducing stereotypical representations of race’ (Hesmondhalgh and Saha, 2013, 192). There is little evidence to show that those cultural workers have the will, power or persistence to implement change in the content or have the creative freedom – or indeed desire – to connect to audiences deriving from the same communities they come from. Not only does the focus on representation politics (the number of minority ethnic representation individuals represented) fail to unsettle the basis of industrial cultures or guarantee more autonomy, it holds in place identity-based hierarchies predicated on assuming the attributes, skills and ideas an individual will bring to their work. 

Racially minoritised creative workers can also be ghettoised through specialised schemes and ring-fenced budgets that preclude access to wider resources, exhibition and distribution. O’Brien et al. (2022: 12), in their engagement with new entrants in the media sector find that they are so ‘economically circumscribed by the neoliberal structures of their working lives that they are genuinely in a vulnerable situation if they do attempt to directly or individually address EDI issues’ so that there is very little incentive for them to address the latent inequalities in the CCI. Outside of these mainstream DEI models, we can find a strong ethos of participation and representation through collaborative creative practices and modes of cultural production, suggesting the possibilities of alternative forms of ‘diversity value’ based on self-organised, collective forms of cultural and economic organisation (Malik et al., 2017).

Data practices, capture and accountability

Diversity is caught up in a social-economic conundrum which can produce a lack of coherent rationale, acting as a barrier to (perceptions of) progress and measurability. Historically, a major obstacle in tackling inequality in the CCI is that many arts and cultural organisations were failing to supply EDI data and engage in diversity reporting. More recently, we have experienced the escalation of data regimes, but there are resultant questions about what data practices exist, who should collect it, how data is captured, what it is used for and where accountability lies.[6]

There is considerable data on ethnic representation in the workforce, but that progress is measured and reported against targets that have been set by creative subsectors themselves, thus the idea that the CCI is ‘marking its own homework’ and not externally audited or held accountable by an independent body. Equally, quantitative data can arguably become a technique for hiding the qualitative basis of lived experiences and deployed against criticisms of opacity. More particularly, a holistic sense of data requires strong levels of accountability for CCI gatekeepers, over time, for the legacy and design of diversity measures, targets and initiatives that have routinely fallen short.

Better processes and systems of measurability and evaluation can support robust accountability. The ScreenSkills review of D&I in the Screen industries states that the existing quantitative data often lacks clarity in terms of the targets and outcomes of diversity initiatives (Eikhof, 2023). The ScreenSkills report is joint industry-academic research and recommends that diversity targets should be regularly reviewed and need to be aspirational, achievable, action-based, explicit and accountable. Its specific recommendations for industry are for transorganisational targets involving better transparency and insights to support more ambitious target setting; diversifying D&I targets to cover a broader range of aspects such as socio-economic background, caring responsibilities or refugee status and to extend targets into additional areas beyond pay gaps or investment; The need to set meaningful, evidence-based, measurable targets which also achieve clarity to help better delivery and coherence with wider organisational strategies; Monitoring and reporting data; devising target ranges and addressing Intersectionality to take into account those with combinations of diversity characteristics (Eikhof, 2023).

Another challenge that has been identified with regards to data practices, and which reflects a wider issue is about who is included in the DEI frame, captured in data and ‘Other-ed’ through data practices. In her analysis of gender equality data in the UK and US film industries, Cobb (2020) argues that ‘cis, hetero, abled, middle-class, white men’ are the ‘structuring absence’ of inequality discourse and inclusion rhetoric because they are not regarded as embodying an identity category of their own that would require data capture.

Within data collection processes, there is a very specific issues around data precision which can impact on any subsequent resource allocation. A recent study of racialised terminology in the CCI, commissioned by BBC Studios and the Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity, finds deep confusion around language, especially when using broad categories like "BAME" (commonly used in the UK to refer to Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic, or sometime Black And Minority Ethnic’) that fail to capture the nuanced experiences of different ethnic and cultural groups (Malik et al., 2021). Within the new environment of data capture, there are inconsistencies, and typically one protected characteristic is considered at a time (Ozimek, 2020). Moreover, the available data does not adequately represent intersectional experiences or the distribution of labour within organisations, varying by work area, seniority, and across different parts of the UK (Liddy et al., 2022). All of this occludes the possibilities of neat metrics being used to boost the case for the creative economy, or the social arguments for who gets to participate in it.[7]

Heterogeneity, intersectionality and lived diversity

Whilst the protections for nine characteristics under the UK’s (2010) Equality Act 2010[8]. provide the legal basis across the regions and nations of the UK, these characteristics socially evolve and are not definitive. One observation is that there are emerging variations across the union of four nations that make up the UK in how research, policy and activism are beginning to recognise other characteristics (e.g., refugee status in the case of Northern Ireland) within a broader conceptual landscape of equality and human rights. This indicates the limits of the mainstream equality agenda (underpinned by the Act) within the devolved nations of the UK (Hankivsky et al., 2019).

Research has pointed out how cultural policy has failed to account for the intersecting categories of inequalities and experiences, although intersectionality is a part of diversity (Moody 2017; Newsinger and Eikhof, 2020). There is an over-categorisation of social identities in diversity data that tends to be quantitative and assembled along rigid lines. Whilst quantitative diversity data has drawn attention to inequalities and been used to mobilise and validate resultant DEI policies and interventions, qualitative data can solicit deep insights into the realities of a heterogenous, complex lived multiculture which might include how race-based discrimination and inequalities affect individuals in the CCI. One of the issues is that the data is not always nuanced in relation to how ethic communities are categorised, or how the intersections of gender, race and class form particular outcomes, including pockets of privilege that might shape these.

It is impossible to talk about the CCI and lived multiculture, and the limits of the mainstream diversity approach, without referencing the role of diasporic media. Market diversity accounts for the spaces and providers that are made visible, marketed and promoted in the circuit of cultural production, distribution and exhibition. Diasporic media is both significant and advanced in the UK and, since the rise of digital and satellite in the UK in the late 1990s, served as pervasive everyday practice for many minority ethnic audiences (Malik, 2010). For the CCI, the lure of diasporic media now extended much beyond first generation migrants, is perhaps the clearest sign of how a majority and minority popular culture is established and the ways in which the CCI might be regarded as complicit in its binary composition.

In terms of lived realities within the CCI, there is evidence to suggest that improvements to job opportunities, access and security have been limited, worsened or transitory in spite of industry claims to move from aims to action (Ali et al., 2022). Wreyford et al. (2021) found in their analysis of Covid-19 impacts on diversity in the CCI, that there have been some positive changes and moves to address inclusion, but also undue pressure on Black representatives in organisations to drive change in the ‘spotlight moment’ that BLM has come to represent (Burger, 2020). Such pressures affirm an extractive form of representation politics where it is assumed that identity characteristics should determine who is best placed to be an EDI leader or advocate. Austerity, Covid-19 and Brexit provide a significant backdrop for new approaches to diversity as pre-existing inequalities deepen within lived multiculture.


Even during the compounding material crises that the UK has been experiencing, the survivability of DEI has demonstrated itself through policy frameworks, remits, mission statements and institutional plans. And yet there remain several challenges faced by the CCI that continually act as macro-organisational and individual-level barriers to progress and to equitable outcomes, and that are now complicated by the differential experiences of wider crisis. This paper suggests that the promise of diversity often bears no relation to the empirical realities of inequalities within the CCI. This is exacerbated by a lack of clear measurement, analysis and accountability of what empirical realities actually are.

These interconnected challenges require a comprehensive and sustained effort from industry and wider society to pinpoint and build consensus around the precise aims of a ‘diversity’ formation which need to strategically deliver against antithetical messages in the political mainstream and latent inequalities in the CCI to be effective. ‘Diversity for diversity’s sake’ is a valid critique if one refocuses on what diversity does, rather than simply where it can be seen. There is a large body of relatively accessible industry data, and whilst it is useful to assemble some of the key findings, an analytical lens might usefully be applied to explain why it is that the patterns have been able to exist for so long, and in parallel with DEI governance and frameworks.

[1] There are, of course, important distinctions between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, as well as ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’, revolving around their process of social construction (it is, for instance, useful to refer to individuals or groups as ‘gendered’ or ‘racialised’ by wider process and structures). Such a distinction is not always captured in data collection exercises or strategic targets which tend to classify and count static objects – part of the divergence between the management and the experience of diversity that the paper deals with more broadly.

[2] UK Black and Brown communities emerge from a coalition of African, Caribbean and Asian communities that share legacies of migration and as the subjects of British colonial rule. Reference is made in the paper to ‘ethnicity’ and ‘minority ethnic’ groups which excludes White minorities, and the White ethnic group but refers to ‘Black, Asian, mixed or other ethnic group’ as examples of being ‘Other’ than White in the UK.

[3] The term ‘intersectionality’ was first used by the critical race and legal scholar, Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989).


[4] The creative industries remain a largely under-researched area, even in studies of racial inequality (Malik and Shankley, 2020). There are few sociological studies of race and racism that have been particularly attentive to questions of representation, including in terms of media and cultural production.

[5] See Pratt’s contribution to this volume.

[6] See O’Brien’s contribution to this volume.

[7] See Easton’s contribution to this volume.

[8] The Equality Act (2010) identifies nine protected characteristics: age, race, religion and beliefs, ability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnerships, pregnancy and maternity, sex and sexual orientation. It covers England, Scotland and Wales but not Northern Ireland.

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