By Tamsyn Dent
Research Fellow at King’s College London, UK
Diversity, intersectionality and care in the UK screen sector
Diversity and inclusion are globally agreed to be a good thing for creative and cultural work, celebrated for both its economic and social benefit (UNDP & UNESCO, 2013). Why then, is the creative and cultural workforce critically un-diverse? Pan-European monitoring of employment across Europe’s creative and cultural sector illustrate the under-representation of women and non-white ethnicities at the senior management and creative lead roles alongside further issues of employment ghettoization and unequal pay (Wom@rts, 2020; Dent et al, 2020; Eurostat, 2019; EWA, 2016; EIGE, 2013). In addition to large-scale numerical monitoring are smaller research studies that provide insight into the lived experience of gender inequality in the creative/cultural workforce (Dent, 2017; Berridge, 2019; Wreyford, 2018). This article has been developed following one such study, a collaboration between myself and a UK-based grassroots campaigning organisation, Raising Films, on a survey designed to gather data on the experience of ‘carers’ within the British screen sector (film, television, animation, visual effects). A ‘carer’ following the official UK definition (Carers UK, 2015) is anyone, including a child, who cares (unpaid) for a family member or a friend who, due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction, cannot manage without their support. The British concept of the term is not easily translatable into different European languages, but the increased demand for unpaid caring support as a result of the financial pressures on the welfare state coupled with a growing elderly population is replicated across Europe (European Public Service Union, 2019). Raising Films is a community-driven organisation founded to support parents and carers in the UK-based screen sector and this study was developed in response to members who highlighted how attention on the barriers of parenting to creative work had led to a series of policy measures that do not relate to the needs of carers. The results from this survey illustrated that caring is not an activity that solely effects women’s ability to participate within creative/cultural work. The findings raise questions on how the sector values caregivers but also the absence of participation from the Black British Afro-Caribbean community points to wider racialized barriers to creative and cultural employment, which I argue are related to the limited policy response to diversity.
The purpose of this article is threefold. First, to highlight the value of grassroots-based research for developing a more nuanced understanding of variable barriers to creative/cultural practice. Second, to provide a criticism of single-axis ‘diversity’ initiatives related to a specific demographic group that can potentially reinforce discriminatory employment structures within the context of creative and cultural work and, third, to problematise the ‘diversity’ agenda in favour of a move towards intersectional social justice that considers the complicated processes of absent/invisible identities within research data.
Gender inequality in the creative and cultural sector
Gender inequality in the creative and cultural sector is widely documented. This is a global phenomenon (UNESCO, 2015) although there are variances across sectors and countries (Eurostat, 2019; Wom@rts, 2020). Defining the creative and cultural sector is problematic as evidenced by the wider literature, considering the discursive difference between the cultural economy, the creative industries and the creative economy (Garnham, 2005; Throsby, 2008; de Beukelaer & Spence, 2019; Wilson et al, 2020). The definitional uncertainty is relevant in relation to the wider statistical workforce monitoring. The European Union adopts the term ‘Culture’ in its official pan-EU monitoring of the creative and cultural workforce and each EU member (including former member, the UK) adopts a slightly varied approach to defining and measuring occupational activity (see Dent et al, 2020 for detailed discussion). This makes employment comparison between countries problematic and creates gaps between the EU data and each individual state, resulting in statistical confusion of who actually works in the cultural/creative sector. Overall, there is evidence of a gender-gap in terms of creative/cultural occupations across the European Union albeit with variance within each nation state (Eurostat, 2019) and there is limited macro data of other demographic characteristics, crucially race, although this again varies at the national level.
The absence of a systematic, universally accepted model for monitoring the creative and cultural workforce across the EU makes cross European comparison on diversity problematic. Instead, there are multiple pockets of evidence that illustrate inequalities within various elements of the creative and cultural workforce. This body of research is relatively developed in relation to gender inequality, with studies on the releationship between gender and creative/cultural work emerging across Europe after the second-wave feminist movement (Dent, 2017). In the UK, studies that emerged in the 1990s considered how state driven deregulation of the broadcasting industry had negative repercussions for women (Antcliff 2005; Dex & Willis, 1999). Developments in technology and the demand for cultural products produced more employment opportunities, however, the working structure that had been implemented by policy changes and the shift towards project-based labour with an employment model based on short-term contracts, were reproduced through the growing number of small creative enterprises and this was shown to exacerbate exclusions (Blair, 2001; Gill, 2002). ‘Exclusionary networks’ (Christopherson, 2009) were reproduced across the various sectors of the creative economy, and job roles that were female-dominated were shown to have a lower financial value (Dent, 2017).
The policy response to inequalities in the creative economy have been largely performative (Ahmed & Swan, 2006). Gender inequality in the case of the UK’s creative sector was attributed to women’s reproductive capabilities (Creative Skillset, 2010) and there has been a notable absence of policy interventions within creative labour markets to provide effective caregiving support for the workforce. However, attributing ‘caregiving’ as the principle factor of gender inequality is problematic across several factors. First, it fails to account for the absence of women without children at senior levels or explain the gender pay-gap across occupational roles. Second, it reinforces the idea that care is a predominantly women’s responsibility, feeding the rationale that withdrawal from the workplace as a result of childcare is a factor of individualised rather than ‘forced’ choice (Stone, 2007; see also Crompton, 2010). Third, it fails to consider the structural changes that had taken place within the creative sector, which were heightened following the 2008 financial crash, the shift towards increased precarity and deregulation as a means to minimise expenditure within the context of wider austerity-driven social shifts, which limited access to care support (Lewis and West, 2017). And finally, it presents ‘women’ and ‘caregivers’ as an homogenous group, failing to acknowledge the multiple and situated experiences of caregiving when approached from an intersectional framework that considers the relationship between race, class and gender (Crenshawe, 1989; Cho et al, 2013; Hankivsky, 2014). These four criticisms highlight the favoured response to gender inequality which fails to consider intersectional discourses relating to both care and work and it is this application of intersectionality to the diversity agenda that I wish to address.
The Diversity Agenda
The increased awareness of ‘diversity’ within creative and cultural institutional spaces has failed to address structural inequality. Sociologists Sara Ahmed and Elaine Swan argued in 2006 that ‘doing diversity’ was a proxy term that incorporated concepts such as ‘social injustice’, ‘sexism’, and ‘racism’, each carrying with it a complicated and variable historical context, resulting in their ‘political removal’ from policy response (see Malik, 2013 in Nwonka, 2020: 26). Ahmed (2017) develops her critique of the ‘diversity worker’ as a tokenistic measure that performs an awareness of inequality, without actually addressing the structural conditions of how inequality is produced. Doris Eikhof and Jack Newsinger (2020) articulate the distinction between ‘empowering’ versus ‘transforming’ policy interventions relating to the diversity agenda in creative/cultural work. The former, based on empowering those individuals from under-represented groups to self-improve, against the latter, which they define as “interventions aimed at changing exclusionary practices and processes” (2020: 55). Their work exposes the predominance of empowering policy interventions within the creative and cultural workforce, including mentoring and training schemes, which are shown to have limited structural impact and can further marginalise certain groups within the workforce (Randle and Hardy, 2016 in Eikhof and Newsinger, 2020: 52).
Another biproduct of empowering interventions is how they exacerbate inequality. Empowering schemes such as mentoring schemes are often either low or unpaid, and therefore available only for those who have the financial resources to participate. A single-axis focus on inequality limits awareness of the multiple barriers to inclusion (Dent, 2017) and in recent years there have been calls for applying an intersectional framework to diversity policy interventions, but without a clear articulation of what an intersectional approach entails. It is important, therefore, to understand the distinctiveness of intersectionality before applying its relevance to a study on carers and creative work.
‘Intersectionality’ emerged out of Black Feminist epistemology that sought to visibilize the experiences of African American women (Crenshawe, 1989; Hill Collins, 2000). The term was coined by law Professor Kimberle Crenshawe to highlight the silencing of black women’s experiences within anti-discrimination legislation and it articulates the discourses of sameness and difference when combining experiences relating to gender and race (1989). In a more recent article with Sumi Cho and Leslie McCall, Crenshawe (2013) notes the evolution of the concept into three contexts across theory, practice and performative application, both within and beyond policy discourse. The authors address a tension around the application of the term to studies that do not address the critical absence of race as a reinforcement of the silencing that the original term was developed to illustrate, whilst also acknowledging the need to shift intersectionality into a field of study that can accommodate these multiple iterations of its application whilst also maintaining its epistemological root (ibid).
Following this approach, intersectionality can be applied as a practice of inquiry to consider the variable systemic barriers that exclude identities from the field of creative and cultural labour in a variety of ways, but to ensure that the voices that are absent from the research are acknowledged and reflected upon. Intersectionality should not be a buzz-word to reflect multiplicity, but a field of enquiry that considers the discourses of sameness and difference across factors of race, gender, sexuality, mobility. This was the approach undertaken in the development of the survey targeted at carers working in the UK screen sector.
We need to talk about caring
The study #weneedtotalkaboutcaring was targeted at UK-based screen workers who are carers and who are cared for. Two surveys were launched by Raising Films in March 2019 through their website, newsletter and social media platforms alongside other relevant organisations. Raising Films collaborated with the national UK charity Carers UK for the survey design and dissemination. 135 responses were gathered from the ‘carers’ survey compared to a total of 11 from the ‘cared for’. Due to the absence of substantial data, the remainder of this article will focus on the results from the carers’ survey with a note that this points to wider questions around access and ability of those with care needs to work in the sector. 76% of respondents were female, 21% male and 3% chose not to identify themselves. Detailed demographic data was collected in relation to age, ethnicity, country of origin, regional location, sexuality, job role, job sector, pay, financial situation – including existing levels of debt and access to external forms of financial support (private wealth and welfare support) – , level of education, usual contract type and additional forms of employment. We also asked about dependents, marital status, religion, physical and mental health. Alongside the demographic information, participants were invited to write about their experiences of and attitudes towards care, their experiences of creative work, how they spoke about their caring responsibilities in their working environments and how colleagues and employers reacted or responded to their situation. As this was a scoping study, we wanted to gather as much demographic information as possible, within the confines of anonymity to uncover identity-based evidence. The full report (Raising Films 2019) provides all the results, but for this article I want to highlight a relationship between race, gender and sexuality that emerged in the data.
The majority of respondents (82%) identified themselves as of a white ethnicity. Out of the 18% non-white ethnicities, the majority were from a mixed/multiple or Asian ethnicity with less than 2% from an Afro-Caribbean-British identity. This result mirrors official measuring of the wider creative workforce, of which the latest figures put white ethnic representation at 87.6%, with the remaining 18.4% as the broader ‘BAME’ (DCMS, 2019). However, there is a critical absence of Afro-Caribbean-British identities within the broader ‘ethnicity’ data. This absence undermines the diversity of the experiences of care captured, as wider literature shows that care varies across situated identities (Hill Collins, 2000; Hankivsky, 2014; Dent, 2017). Thus, the findings of this study are limited due to wider systemic barriers of access or recognition of cultural/creative occupation (O’Brien et al, 2016; Nwonka, 2020). As stated, care work is multiple and the emerging literature on racialised care ethics considers how it is shaped by discourses of colonialism, slavery, globalisation and migration (Raghuram, 2019; Hochschild, 2001). There are questions here about language and recognition but also about risk. Parvati Raghuram, in her work on the relationship between race and care, talks of the relationship between care and risk in certain communities, how preparing for an absence of care is a reality for many that operate within a racially unjust world (2019). We cannot, from these results, make any claims about the universalisation of care and its impact on creative/cultural workers, all we can do is acknowledge what is absent and reflect on why that is.
So far, I have talked about the data that is absent from the survey. An interesting pattern that did emerge was a relationship between sexuality and care. The number of respondents who identified themselves as LGBTQ+ was 19%, higher that the estimated number of those working in the creative media industry (7%) or the UK working population as a whole (Raising Films, 2019). Out of those that identified as male, 29% described their sexuality as gay. This led to an interest in the relationship among gender, sexuality and care in relation to male carers. Those that identified themselves as men in the survey were more predominantly caring for a partner, whereas women, for a relative, and when asked about the impact of their caring activity on their financial status, we found out that men perceived themselves to be affected more negatively than women. The modal age of men in the survey was older than that of women (55-64 compared to 35-44). Whilst looking at their testimonials, I found some interesting parallels on value that I had uncovered in previous work, on mothers who left creative employments following childbirth (Dent, 2017). Male respondents caring primarily (but not exclusively) for partners were experiencing rejection, stigma, barriers to support and the inability to manage the demands of their creative work with their caregiving role, as a result of the failure of employers and colleagues to acknowledge their caregiving role. The existence of caregiving was seen by most as a negative attribute in the context of screen labour. The findings relating to men and care, therefore, challenged previous empowering intervention policy responses based on managing the individual and not transformative structural change. They also illustrate that caregiving is not only provided by women. Many cited the absence of structural support for carers and were reliant on the individual goodwill of employers, which was acknowledged as an unsustainable model for continued participation in the workforce.
This survey is an exercise in highlighting both what is visible and what is absent, in terms of presenting evidence-based research on the experience of carers in creative and cultural work. This study points out the problematic application of framing care as a gendered activity, by illustrating the impact of caregiving responsibilities on men. The absence of race points to wider structural inequalities within the creative sector more broadly but also, through the consultation of wider literature, to our knowledge on the relationship between creative work and care.
Returning to my original question, “why is the creative and cultural workforce critically un-diverse?”, it is clear that the evidence feeding our knowledge on the creative and cultural workforce is limited. This small study is by no means representative of a wider population, but the level of detailed demographic data enables detailed analysis of the relationship among gender, age, sexuality and care. The absence of race, or in this particular case, Afro-Caribbean identities, which is itself a broad term, should also be a policy factor, going back to the importance of illuminating the ‘political and structural inequalities’ (Cho et al, 2013: 797). This enables white ethnicities to experience the stigma and rejection that their caregiving creates in the context of creative and cultural work. Finally, the article raises questions on the relevance and impact of empowering interventions as a policy response to the diversity issue in the creative and cultural workforce. The need for transformative structural change, based on a clearer understanding of creative and cultural workers lives, is a necessary factor to ensure the sustainability of the workforce, particularly in relation to the wider growing need and value of care.
Questions for further discussion
- Why, despite a public recognition of the value of diversity in the creative and cultural workforce is the workforce still so critically un-diverse?
- Why has ‘caring’ been attributed as the main cause of gender inequality?
- What do we mean by ‘intersectionality’ and how can we ensure that an intersectional approach to research does not mis-appropriate the term by marginalising the identities at the centre of its original conception?
- How can we re-think research to develop ‘transforming’ policy interventions to make the creative and cultural industry more inclusive?
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Tamsyn is a Research Fellow at the Department for Culture, Media and Creative Industries (CMCI), King’s College London. She is currently working on a European Commission funded project titled ‘Developing Inclusive and Sustainable Creative Economies’ (DISCE). Her research interests are in workplace cultures in creative economies, with a particular interest in systemic inequalities. She is a Fellow of the Higher Education Authority and has previously held teaching roles at Bournemouth University and Oxford Brookes University. Tamsyn has provided consultancy for a number of UK creative industry institutions, including Birds Eye View, Screen Skills (formerly Creative Skillset), Women in Film and TV, Raising Films and The Offsite.
 For clarity, this article will use the term ‘creative and cultural workforce’ to accommodate the multiple roles that operate within a broader ‘creative economy’.