Almost 10% of the UK’s workforce work in the creative industries, and 9% of the UK’s GDP derives from the Creative Economy (This is more than the UK’s car, life sciences, oil, gas and aerospace industries combined) - so the concept of scaling back investment in creative education is madness, right?. Even more so if we look to the future - we all know the robots are coming.
There are three very human traits that machines struggle to automate 1) they don’t have common sense, 2) they don’t understand (or have) empathy and 3) they can’t match our creative capabilities. So if we want our children and grandchildren to have jobs, we need to stop obsessing about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), STEAM is far more important - putting ‘Art’ (i.e creativity/design) at the heart of education. Sir Ken Robinson is completely right, saying that “creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.
I recently wrote an article on this exact topic for Design Week.
We all know the robots are coming. Soon machines will drive, serve customers, do our accounts and legal work. However, there are three very human traits that machines struggle with; 1) they don’t have common sense, 2) they don’t understand (or have) empathy and 3) they can’t match our creative capabilities. If we want our children and grandchildren to have jobs, Sir Ken Robinson is completely right when he said that “creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
This is all very well, but unfortunately it’s not what is happening in the current education system. Our government is increasingly obsessing about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), however STEAM is far more important - putting ‘Art’ (i.e creativity/design) at the heart of tech solutions. As automation replaces non-creative routine jobs, we need more people to come up with creative tech solutions. It’s when you put an engineer next to a creative that the magic really happens. In the end this is an article for Design Week, so I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted.
A more pressing issue we must face is that with the government prioritising STEM over creativity, there has been a corresponding drop in the number of specialist creative, arts and design teachers being trained, and a 28% drop of students taking creative GCSES. This is largely due to recent changes to UK curriculums, where the EBACC has drastically limited creative choices at schools, enough so that British icons such as Grayson Perry and Tracey Emin have called for a stop to the new qualification structure in an open letter. Another huge factor causing this decline is the sheer lack of governmental funding for arts and creativity, as highlighted by cultural experts in the 2015 Warwick Commission. What this means is now more than ever, creative education is an upper/middle class luxury, afforded by students whose parents can either send them to private schools or pay for creative education outside school.
Don’t get me wrong, I applaud parents who take their children’s creative education seriously - I am one of the lucky ones; daughter of a father who sent me to a creative school that specialised in dyslexia - resulting in me being the first generation of my family to make it to university. I had a great creative education; it helped me cope with my dyslexia and go onto having a wonderful career. But I often ask myself, what if I hadn’t won the middle class lottery of life? With crippling dyslexia, there is a strong chance that I wouldn’t be where I am now. For every one of me, there are so many squandered minds and creative innovators that we’ve left behind.
During my time working at MTV, I also experienced how dangerous a homogeneous workforce can be for creative thinking. As with most creative businesses, we hired via word of mouth, resulting in an inherent lack of diversity of thinking - our creative output became stale.
There is now endless research proving that diversity is good for creativity. A London Business School study found that more gender-balanced teams are best promote environments where innovation can flourish. A Harvard Business School study found that teams that include workers from different backgrounds and experiences come up with more creative ideas and methods of solving problems. The list of examples is endless.
I have dedicated my career to helping businesses build more diverse teams in all its guises. For example, 62% of The Dots members are female, 31% BAME, 16% LGBT+ and I’m also a massive advocate for disabled and neurodiverse (dyslexia, autism, ADHD etc) talent.
What I am increasingly obsessed with, is how to open our amazing industry up to incredible talent from families that don’t see the creative industries as a viable career; particularly those from minority and low-income backgrounds. Steve Jobs probably explained it best - creativity is all about connecting the dots: “A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
That’s why I founded The Dots - to democratise talent and give everyone the opportunity to break into our historically word-of-mouth driven industry. For example, we removed the ability for the 8,000+ companies who use The Dots to be able to search for talent based on where they went to university. I strongly believe cream should be given the opportunity to rise to the top irrespective of educational background. We also adjust our algorithm so more diverse talent appear at the top of searches. But as with every complex problem, there is no a silver bullet. As an industry, if we’re really serious about diversity then we also need to inspire, train, mentor and support the new blood of the future. But how?
Over the years I’ve met and collaborated with so many incredible organisations, working to help cream rise to the top at a grassroots level.
If you work in our wonderful industry and want to help drive change, then support these organisations in any way you can. Become a mentor, offer to talk or volunteer and (if you’re in a position to do so) give them funding.
And if you’re looking to get into our amazing industry and thrive along the way, then all of these amazing organisation are here to help.
A New Direction: A not-for-profit organisation that exists to ensure that all children and young people in London can develop their creativity and play an active part in the culture and heritage of the city.
Commercial Break: A youth transformation agency and social enterprise that transforms the lives of both young, urban adults, and brands looking to connect with them.
Creative Mentor Network: A charity that works directly with schools to connect talented young people from diverse backgrounds with those working in the creative industries.
D&AD Shift: An incredible life-changing and career making night school that helps talent that doesn’t have a degree or A Levels fast track into the creative industries. Application deadline for their next cohort is August 10th, so get amongst it.
Dream Nation: Founded by the incredible Claud Williams is personal development brand designed or the 21st century. Dream Nation host events, training and technology helping people to improve their productivity, emotional intelligence, financial literacy and physical health. They’re on a small break at the moment, working on something transformative - so be sure to follow their progress.
Diversity Matters: Since launching in April 2016 with Diversity Matters Awareness Week, Diversity Matters now umbrellas a host of projects, workshops, events and services linked to promoting diversity in the arts and media fields, as well as education and work environments.
Ideas Foundation: Whose mantra is ‘Creativity doesn’t have a class but it should have a classroom’ work with 13-19 year old students to deliver on client briefs with teaching support. The Ideas Foundation program director (who also works at Livity - see below) is one of the most incredible diversity advocates this industry has the privilege of working with, so support him in any way you can.
L.I.F.E Talks: L.I.F.E Talks is a platform created by Velma Simmons, who witnessed first-hand how hard it was to break into the entertainment industry. This eventually led to the birth of L.I.F.E Talks, L.I.F.E Talks, which stands for Learning from Intelligent Fearless Entrepreneurs. Brilliant!
Livity: Is a youth led creative agency that connect brands and young people to gives ambitious young talent access to opportunities through workshops, co-working space, exhibitions and more.
Next of Kin: Uniting care leavers with creativity because their voice is valuable. Founder Naomi (Gnome) Taylor came through foster care, battled demons and is now an award-winning creative at Mr President. She founded Next of Kin to find more role models to help others from similar backgrounds succeed in advertising. What a legend!
Pepper Your Talk: Founded by Dior Bediako, Pepper Your Talk is a platform for young fashion creatives. Her new project The Junior Network has created a community of fashion professionals at the beginning of their careers, with events and resources to propel them forwards.
Rich Mix New Creatives A free year-long programme, introducing 16s – 25s from Tower Hamlets to the arts and offering an opportunity to gain a Silver Arts Award qualification and a work placements
The Other Box: Founded by the ever incredible Roshni Goyate and Leyya Sattar. The Other Box celebrates people of colour and other minority backgrounds and help increase diversity across the creative industries through events, workshops and a growing network of bad-ass creatives.
SocialFixt: Encourages entry-level black, asian and minority talent into the creative industries via opportunities and events. The brainchild of the ever incredible Mercedes Benson, SocialFixt is doing a transformative job of connecting the dots within the creative industry for BAME talent.
You Make It: Empowers young unemployed women with the confidence, skills, networks, knowledge, and experiences needed to realise their passions and pursue their goals by putting building self-esteem at its core. Ensuring that all women, regardless of background, have access to the same opportunities to lead happy, independent and fulfilled lives. WOW!
Young Barbican Scheme: Gives 14–25 year olds discounted access to unmissable art and entertainment as well as exclusive events and creative opportunities, whether that be ‘young poets’ ‘young programmers’, ‘young
V&A DesignLab Nation scheme: A newly launched school initiative stopping design becoming ‘endangered’, which aims to pique the interest of more students from the midlands and north of England in design.
I also want to give a final shout out to the amazing Creative Equals, For Working Ladies, Gal Dem, Marguerite, Women Who, We Are Stripes, Riposte, She Says, This Ability and Quarter Club - who work with diverse groups later in their career, and do brilliant events, workshops, training courses, mentorship program and more for diverse talent rising the ladder! And also the amazing Cindy Gallop, for supporting all of us. Because in the end it’s not just about training and attracting great young talent, it’s about keeping them too.
This is by no means a definitive list (and I’m so sorry it’s woefully London-centric) - but it’s simply a selection of amazing organisations I’ve come across over the years. Please credit other great organisations in the credit list below, so we can give them the recognition and support they deserve.
Collectively, we really can build a better and more diverse creative industry for everyone!