Blog Post

How to solve London’s “culture club” problem

To be a part of London’s cultural and creative workforce means joining the culture club – an exciting place to be, in a city that has seen a boom in the cultural and creative industry workforce, with employment growing higher than ever before.

However, the ‘culture club‘ remains exclusive, with membership earned through having the right connections, the financial stability and the cultural education (or, better yet a degree at the best universities in the world for art and design) to thrive in a highly competitive sector. As a result the sector is under-representative of its city – Londoners are missing out on opportunity and London is missing out on talent.

READ OUR Culture Club Report

To start off, around a fifth of the sector’s workforce are from a Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) background – even though they account for over 40 per cent of the capital’s population. Like many other sectors, the creative and cultural industries are no stranger to the phenomenon of unconscious bias in recruitment. Also, women and BAME people face a strong glass ceiling effect, and are scarce at senior levels.

Also shocking is the skewed social class profile of the sector – 95 per cent of the workforce comes from privileged backgrounds. Couple this with unpaid internships that are still a popular route for early career entrants, and as a stepping stone into employment, and we have a problem.

As part of our research I spoke to young people who are currently working in or are aspiring to work in the creative sector. From their experiences it seems that the barriers to entry, as well as progression in the cultural and creative industries are similar across sub-sectors. So how can we open up opportunities to move into the sector and up the ranks?

Here’s three ways to solve London’s culture club problem…

1. Pay interns fairly for their time

Realistically, to do an unpaid internship means you need to be financially stable whilst working for free. Working in the cultural and creative industries automatically widens the inequality gap at entry level, favouring those who have sufficient economic capital over those who do not. Therefore, all internships should be paid at least the National Minimum Wage and larger employers should offer the London Living Wage.

2. Amend recruitment practices

The industry needs to review current recruitment methods and tailor their selection process to focus more on creative potential, rather than solely focusing on academic achievement. To have a representative workforce means to have greater care and attention to the recruitment process, whether that means implementing blind recruitment practices or making entry criteria more realistic. (You shouldn’t have to have an undergraduate degree to work in a range of creative occupations, when apprenticeships are also an acceptable qualification, for example).

3. Create a formal mentoring programme

Finally, London’s young creatives would benefit from a formal mentoring programme. Though many exist through charity organisations which have been shown to be effective in different pockets of the city, this needs to be extended London-wide. London’s culture club shuts people without strong networks out from accessing resources that may not otherwise be available. As one student put it: “in London it’s about trying to find ways to network as much as possible”.

London’s culture club needs to open its doors, and better represent the capital’s workforce. With help from the Mayor of London, it’s time for cultural organisations to foster practical solutions to enhance entry and progression for all Londoners, regardless of their background.

READ OUR Culture Club Report


Mario Washington-Ihieme is Research Assistant at Centre for London. Follow her on Twitter.