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Tackling the #ClassCrisis in the creative industries: how Creative industries employers can promote socio-economic diversity and inclusion

The creative industries are among the United Kingdom’s most valuable sectors. Pre-pandemic, it was estimated that the creative industries employed over 2 million people, contribute £115.9bn to the UK economy and were growing four times faster than the economy as a whole. 

The impact of employment, work experience and training opportunities on an individual’s life chance is significant. As a prolific employer, the industries’ employers have an opportunity to drive the workplace social mobility agenda forward decisively. With so many involved in shaping the national conversation, the industries also have a crucial role to play in setting the agenda on the national stage.

There is however, a ‘class crisis’ in the creative industries. The sector is disproportionately tilted in favour of those from ‘privileged’ backgrounds at the expense of working class entrants.

According to research by the Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre, 52% of those working in the sector are from a professional background  compared to only 27% from a working class background. These statistics are in stark contrast to the wider workforce (37% professional background/ 39% working class background respectively) and show that real effort is needed to close this gap.

So just what is driving this lack of diversity? What is it that makes the creative industries different to other sectors, and how can employers address this?  Our brand new Employers toolkit for the creative industries sets out some of the key findings and looks at the steps employers can take to address them.

The ‘class crisis’ in the creative industries

The sector is a broad church, with the term ‘creative industries’ used collectively to refer to a range of industries including music, theatre, film and television, publishing, advertising, architecture, gaming, museums and heritage.

Of those working in these industries, on average:

  • 52% are from high socio-economic backgrounds (SEB), with 27% from working class backgrounds. (compared to 37% high SEB and 39% low SEB in the wider workforce)
  • 29% attended an Independent school (versus 7% of the wider workforce)
  • 4% attended Oxford or Cambridge university

Compared to the general working population, it’s clear that the sector is skewed in favour of those from more privileged backgrounds – but what are the barriers that are preventing those from working classes from taking advantage of opportunities?

The sector is dominated by professional roles

Three-quarters of roles in the creative industries are classified as professional roles, compared to 21% intermediate jobs and only 4% working class jobs.

Not only are these professional roles more highly paid, and more stable than other roles, they are also more likely to be held by people from professional backgrounds. The high number of those in the creative industries who went to independent school (29% across the sector but climbing to 44% of newspaper columnists, influential editors and broadcasters) can lead to an understanding within the industry of what ‘culture’ and ‘fit’ looks like.

This understanding is shaped by the perception of those from privileged backgrounds and can serve to disadvantage those from working class backgrounds who may not share the same cultural touchpoints and references – and may find it more difficult to be hired or progress in a role where their ‘fit’ for a role is questioned.

The sector’s reliance on freelance workers is a barrier to those from working class backgrounds

32% of those working in the creative industries are self-employed (this includes freelancers). This figure is significantly more than is typical across the UK workforce (16%).

The freelance model is fragile, an issue demonstrated at the beginning of the pandemic. The lack of financial security that is typical of self-employment can be a barrier to those from working class backgrounds who are more likely to be reliant on regular income and less likely to benefit from familial support or similar support nets. As one of the most common entry points into the creative industries, freelance work can be seen as one of the drivers of disproportionate representation of those from higher socio-economic backgrounds in the sector.

Unpaid internships

Another common route of entry into the sector is unpaid internships. Once again, those from working class backgrounds are less likely to be in a position to accept roles in which they would be expected to work for free. Coming from working class backgrounds, they are also less likely to have the social and familial networks to secure a placement informally, putting them at a disadvantage when compared to those from a higher socio-economic background.  


More than half of all creative organisations in England are in London and the south-east of England. This presents a challenge for employers seeking to promote diversity. People from professional backgrounds are three times more likely than those from working-class backgrounds to want, or be able, to move to London, where they can take advantage of this concentration of opportunities.

The case for socio-economic diversity in the creative industries

Few are more likely to understand the value of diversity than those working in the creative industries, but evidence tells us that there is much more left to be done to encourage socio-economic diversity in the sector.

Putting an emphasis on socio-economic diversity within the workforce has been shown to have a demonstrable impact on the productivity of businesses across a range of sectors, and prioritising this issue could see a huge return for those creative employers willing to take the necessary steps.

95% of employers in the sector are SMEs, employing 1 to 8 people. Many of these employers may understandably be at an early stage in their diversity and inclusion efforts, but it is important that they do what they can – and that their efforts are strategic.

The SMC’s new Toolkit for the creative industry includes recommendations tailored to creative sector employers and which will help you to refine your policies around recruitment, progression, and outreach, as well as the steps you can take to build an inclusive culture.

Take a look at some of the key recommendations below, then download the full toolkit.

What to do next

1. Collect data and use it to develop your strategy

Knowing where the bottlenecks are in your organisation can help to inform your approach. Collect data on your workforce’s socio-economic background to understand your current position, key next steps and to measure your progress.

The first step is to ask your employees about their socio-economic background, and benchmark your organisation’s data against relevant benchmarks.

Find out how to start open conversations about class in the workplace. Check out our ‘Let’s Talk About Class’ resources.

2. Tailor your approach at each stage of your employee journey

Make sure that your efforts are addressing barriers at every stage of an employee’s experience. You should aim to proactively engage with a wide range of prospective applicants, remove barriers at the hiring stage, and ensure that you are providing all staff with opportunities to develop and progress in their careers.

3. An inclusive culture is as important as a diverse workforce

Building an inclusive culture is as important as the steps you take to remove barriers. A compelling shared vision of the value of socio-economic diversity that is driven by leadership and backed up by clear commitment and action is crucial.

4. Advocate and collaborate with others

Don’t confine your efforts to within your own organisation. To drive industry-wide change, make sure to share best practice with others, support them to improve their own efforts and hold suppliers and partners to account on this issue wherever possible.

Our brand new employers toolkit for the creative industry is out now. View the web version or download the full toolkit.