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Research: Class ceiling within creative industries

March 18, 2024

Creative Access, a UK diversity & inclusion social enterprise, has revealed research on working-class experiences in the UK’s creative sector. In speaking to broadcast professionals from all class groups across the creative industries, findings reveal 70 per cent believe that ‘soft’ social identifiers of class – such as where an individual went to school and your level of confidence – still affect how peers in creative industries see one another, and that class discrimination is still an issue in the workplace today.

Why now? Figures show that the proportion of working-class actors, musicians and writers has shrunk by half from the 1970s to 2022 (according to Sage Journals) this is despite 48 per cent of the UK identifying as working class the year prior, in 2021 (according to

Respondents were united in placing class representation at senior level as the most urgent topic for employers to address (two in three). However, opinions on the severity of this issue differed between class groups. 73 per cent of working-class respondents identify a lack of senior working-class representation, and only 46 per cent of upper middle-class respondents agree.

(Un)Equal access: what barriers do working class people face?

Unpaid internships are still common within the creative industries, with those who identify as working or middle/lower-middle class saying those from upper-class backgrounds benefit the most.

Research also reveals a stark contrast in perceptions regarding social mobility, with 76 per cent of upper/upper-middle-class respondents believing social mobility in the UK is easier than ever, and only 43 per cent of working-class respondents sharing this view. Black (75 per cent), Mixed or multiple ethnic groups (78 per cent) and Asian (64 per cent) respondents are more inclined to observe class disparities in industry access compared to white respondents (61 per cent).

Who’s really thriving?

Without an inclusive culture in the workplace, working-class individuals do not have the support or resources to thrive. Research showed barriers to career progression include discrimination and unequal reward: 88 per cent of respondents said discrimination based on class is an issue in the UK. In addition, only one in three working-class respondents think they are rewarded equally for their work and contributions (in comparison 67 per cent of upper-class people believe working class people are equally rewarded).

Redefining class

The findings reveal a disparity between working-class and upper-class individuals’ opinions of the characteristics that indicate class and the state of social mobility today. Working-class respondents were more than twice as likely (68 per cent) to rank where someone went to school as an indicator of class, compared to upper/upper middle-class respondents (28 per cent). Upper/upper middle-class respondents also reported ‘confidence/how someone presents themselves’ higher than working class people.

Opinions on social mobility were divided too. 76 per cent of respondents who identify as upper/upper-middle class believe changing social class in the UK is easier than ever, but only 43 per cent of working-class respondents share this view. However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies in 2023 found that moving up the social ladder in Britain has become harder than at any point in more than half a century for children born into poor households. For example, those growing up in the north of England and the Midlands, as well as those from a minority ethnic background, find it a lot harder than others to become wealthier than their parents.

Bibi Hilton, CEO, Creative Access: “Class is the one area where we really aren’t making progress in the creative industries, the research proves that access to this space is largely still based on contacts and networks which tend to be in close reach for the privileged. Our research with FleishmanHillard UK, shines a light on these inequities and hopefully kickstarts conversation and action around the stark lack of working-class representation in senior positions. It’s worrying that soft social identifiers are still influencing class prejudice and biases. But as the creative world evolves, we’re urging employers to commit to breaking down these barriers, whether it be levelling up their inclusive hiring or supporting working class staff with access to career support and mentors.”

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: “For too long, the creative industries have been seen as the domain of a privileged few. Unfortunately, many of the sector’s trends, from hiring practices to promotions to unmet diversity targets, continue to preclude many people from starting and sustaining a career in the sector. The creative industries contribute so much – economically, culturally, and socially – to the UK but they must better reflect the diverse talent that is available in this country. Collaboration across the sector is critical to drive the structural change needed to achieve true and meaningful inclusion, and to create an inclusive, open industry and workplaces that welcome different types of talent and allows them to occupy senior roles. Industry and government must make a collective effort to ensure increase representation and retain diverse talent at both entry and senior level.”

Ben Levine, Senior Partner and Socioeconomic Steering Group Lead, FleishmanHillard, commented: “The disparity in opinion between working class and upper-class individuals when it comes to socioeconomic diversity in the creative industries should give us all pause for thought. If we’re not aware of the challenges and barriers facing certain communities in our industry then progress will continue to be slow. The launch of this report represents an opportunity to start some of these conversations within our businesses and teams, and begin the work of understanding where and how we can do better. It’s not a challenge that is unique to any individual organisation or even sector but in the creative industries we are uniquely positioned when it comes to shaping culture and bringing fresh perspectives to old challenges. Within our agency we will be looking again at the culture we create, the ways we assess and progress talent and how we create safe space for colleagues from all backgrounds to share their experiences and insights.”

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