THE BLOG
29/09/2015 14:02 BST | Updated 29/09/2016 06:12 BST

The UK's Creative Industries Need to Be More Creative When Looking for New Talent

If the UK's creativity is its most high-profile export, what does the "diversity deficit" actually reveal about us to the rest of the world? And more fundamentally, what does it mean for the wealth of incredible talent that lies in these chronically under-leveraged communities?

UK creative industries lead the world. They're routinely held up by politicians as the epitome of British talent and enterprise, and are worth £8.8million an hour to the UK economy. The nation that gave birth to everything from the Beatles to Soul II Soul, Damien Hirst to Steve McQueen and Harry Potter to Slumdog Millionaire still punches well above its weight.

Yet there's one crucial area in which this most dynamic sector fails to live up to its well-deserved global reputation.

Step inside most advertising and public relations companies and you're unlikely to see a true reflection of the UK population. Go behind the scenes at the museum (or the gallery, for that matter) and it's a similar story. Ditto architectural practices, designers, libraries, theatres, publishers and others. For all their celebrated individuality and free-thinking, some of these organisations are not very creative in the ways they look for new talent and the people they seek to recruit.

It's fair to say that some Britain's creative industries have a diversity challenge. And that's not just a glib observation - the facts speak for themselves. Although recent research has shown some progress in certain areas (design, for example), a brand new industry-wide study published today (Mon 28.09.15) by MOBO and the Creative Industries Federation shows that just 11% of employees in this vital sector are drawn from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

Government statistics trumpet a 12.5% increase in creative industries employment for BAME people between 2013 and 2014. Yet if one takes into account that 32% of all creative jobs are in London (where 40% of the workforce is BAME), 17.8% of the entire UK creative sector should be BAME if it's to reflect the population at large - a 6.8% increase.

If the UK's creativity is its most high-profile export, what does the "diversity deficit" actually reveal about us to the rest of the world? And more fundamentally, what does it mean for the wealth of incredible talent that lies in these chronically under-leveraged communities?

And it's not simply a case of social justice - inclusiveness makes economic sense, too. After all, the markets these industries serve are ever-more diverse in themselves: lose touch with them at your peril.

We founded MOBO in 1996 and it came to represent a watershed moment in British culture. Previously, UK urban music was practically invisible to the mainstream. Our vision was to recognise and celebrate artists of any ethnicity or nationality performing this music while inspiring a generation that had dared to dream.

Many people told me - with the best of intentions - that we should position ourselves as niche and underground; that we would lose our credibility if we tried to muscle into the mainstream. Yet we knew that the only way to affect real change was to be as accessible as possible. Now, as we look forward to marking MOBO's 20th anniversary, we are an accepted and respected voice in Britain's popular culture. Progress takes time and is hard won - but is always worth fighting for.

Still, what MOBO has taught us is that it's not enough to say something is amiss, you have to do something about it. As the phrase goes, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

That's why we want this Creative Diversity report to be the moment that the UK's amazing creative industries decide to tackle the imbalance in their gene pool, by working together towards a target of 20% BAME employment in London by 2020. It's time the recruitment agencies are told to open up and not just target to the same, narrow, familiar band of people for employment. It's time they started tackling the orthodoxy that breaking into fields like media and the arts are all about who you know and where you live - rather than what you know and where you could go. We need to work together to create a path and opportunities for future generations.

Succeeding in any creative endeavour is tough enough, even with talent and determination - certainly if my own modest experience is any guide. When I started out in theatre in London, coming from a family without wealth or connections, I struggled to find my feet and it was only when I decided to create my own opportunities that my life dramatically changed. Many are not nearly so fortunate, as the actress Viola Davies noted in her inspiring Emmy acceptance speech last week.

MOBO's vision is for all Britain's BAME talent is to be judged on its merits - and crucially, its potential - rather than colour or background. Just as the greatest British albums, films, shows, ad campaigns and artworks succeed by breaking the mould and challenging convention, if our creative industries are to continue leading the world, some will need to rock their own world first.