Creative Access has become a pivotal force in changing the ethnic make-up of the creative industries and pushing for a more diverse workforce that is reflective of modern society, with publishing among the sectors “leading the pack”, according to its c.e.o. Josie Dobrin.
But there is still more work to be done and “ample scope” to place more interns within the industry and to support those at entry level so they can climb up the ranks to management positions.
The charity was founded in 2012 to provide opportunities in the creative industries for young people from under-represented black, Asian and other non-white minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME). In four years, the charity has placed 681 interns in the creative industries, 112 of those within the publishing industry.
Of Creative Access alumni – those who have completed internships – those in publishing have “by far the highest rate of conversion to full time roles at the end of their internships”, Dobrin says, with 87% securing full-time roles in the publishing industry compared with an average of about 74% securing full-time roles in the creative industries as a whole.
Dobrin says that the publishing industry has shown “a genuine commitment” to “introducing diverse talent into the industry” as well as “nurturing and supporting young people into permanent roles”.
“Publishing (unlike other creative sectors) is also fortunate to have extremely committed and effective trade bodies and a sectoral press in the Publishers Association, the Society of Authors and The Bookseller. As a cohesive industry, it’s much easier to effect change,” she added.
Creative Access has worked with 36 companies across the publishing industry ranging from publishers including Cassava Republic and Hachette to literary agencies such as United Agents and Aitken Alexander, associations including the Society of Authors, The Bookseller and the Publishers Association.
But, Dobrin says there is “ample scope” to place “many more interns” in both companies who have already placed interns, and those who have not yet worked with the charity.
Change is certainly happening, but “slowly”, Dobrin says, adding that moves to attract a more diverse workforce by abolishing degree requirements and introducing apprenticeships are having an impact, but there is “still much work to be done”.
“I think the major challenge now is to support those at entry level to reach management positions,” Dobrin adds.
Creative Access celebrated placing its 500th intern earlier this year. Picture: © Jessie Leong Photography
Discussing the possibility that the government may move to ban unpaid internships in order to help eradicate inequalities in various industries – particularly the creative industries - Dobrin says: “Unpaid internships are not a good thing and we never work with companies who will not pay their staff. Very few of the young people we work with can afford to work for free and yet if they don’t demonstrate on their CVs that they have experience it can be much harder for them to get that first important role.”
Among the recent initiatives from those in the publishing sector are the Spare Room project from the Publishers Association, which asks people in the industry to offer spare rooms to interns, and Penguin Random House’s The Scheme, which seeks to reach potential employees who may not have previously considered a career in publishing by working with secondary schools and via social media platforms.
Dobrin says Creative Access is “100% behind any scheme that seeks to remove barriers to entry to the publishing industry”, and is glad that the industry seems to be moving on from conversations and discussions to tangible, concrete action.
“Whilst there is always a need for mapping the best route, I’m a firm believer in making mistakes as you learn. That means actually cracking on, attempting to broaden the industry’s reach into a greater pool of talent” she says.
Dobrin points to initiatives in the other creative industries that are helping to drive change. “The television and film industries in particular have had success in improving the diversity of their workforces because funding bodies have introduced quotas which ensure that in order to receive a grant, a company needs to satisfy certain diversity criteria,” she says. Among the schemes she cites are the BFI’s three ticks diversity scheme and Channel 4’s two ticks scheme for disability. Channel 4, the BBC, ITV and Sky have invested in an industry-wide monitoring programme, Project Diamond, “which will ultimately lead to much more transparent practices”, says Dobrin.
Speaking broadly across the creative industries, Dobrin says that some sectors are working harder to affect change than others, “rather than [just] talking about it”. “In our experience, TV, publishing and theatre are the leaders of the pack and lagging some way behind are journalism, advertising and marketing”, Dobrin says. “There is no question that there has been an improvement in the publishing industry in recent years, but the sector now needs to make better use of diverse leaders in senior roles within the sector to fly the flag for those coming after them.”
Yet, the charity is not without its critics. Recently, TV personality Katie Hopkins launched a scathing attack on Creative Access, arguing that the charity was discriminating against white people. Dobrin says: “I understand that it’s frustrating for people to see roles advertised with top companies that they are not eligible to apply for. However, we believe that by opening the door to industries which our young people might otherwise not have access too, this is the best way of enriching the industries themselves and also of breaking the cycle of ‘who you know’ rather than ‘what you know’.”
She adds: “Creative Access only funds training opportunities and not jobs, which means all our interns need to prove themselves and ensure they are the strongest candidate for a job if and when they apply for one.”