Chapter 4: Barriers: the role of social capital

Culture Club: Social mobility in the creative and cultural industries

Chapter 4: Barriers: the role of social capital

This chapter will highlight the role of networks in helping people to enter and progress in the creative and cultural industries.

The importance of networking

The popular phrase “who you know matters more than what you know” 33 is particularly applicable to the creative and cultural industries. Many opportunities
are accessed via word of mouth, through links with friends and family members in the industry, or through personal recommendations.

It’s not about how talented you are, it’s about who you know and how you know them. If you meet someone they’re more likely to help you find a job or find work through them. If you know no one but you’re doing the most amazing artwork or trying to get it seen people aren’t going to help you… it’s about
trying to find ways to network as much as possible in London.

Female, student

Obtaining a strong network and remaining connected within the industry is key when looking for a position and progressing within London’s creative
and cultural industries. Nevertheless, without existing connections, finding such contacts relies on taking unpaid positions “to get a foot in the door” – as
outlined in the previous chapter.

I was struggling to get anything else because it’s so reputation-based, network-based, you’ve got to know someone to get a job.

Female, employed in the film, TV, radio and photography sector

To the young people we spoke to, the traditional practice of applying for jobs through a standardised process seems old-fashioned, unnecessary – and
incredibly time consuming and complex. Further, it seems that most jobs are found through networks or “a bit of luck”:

I’ve never gotten a job by actually applying for it. I got a job by emailing people tactically and sort of building up this network […] now I have an Excel spreadsheet of people I know at various production companies who if I send my CV they will keep it in file […] they will keep in touch with me if there is a job coming up because they don’t advertise it.

Female, employed in the film, TV, radio and photography sector

The only thing I’ve managed to get recently… I literally just managed to send an email and thank God somebody replied and said we are looking for somebody. That’s it. All the roles I’ve applied for online… nothing really.

Male working class, unemployed

Employers argue that that cultural organisations are not so competitive for talent compared to other sectors, due to a lot of recruitment being done through networks rather than advertised jobs:

The museum sector needs to stop with this practice [of recruiting through networks] because you’re only recruiting who you know.

Employer in the museum sector

One of the big things I’m trying to push more is to advertise more jobs. So, all our apprenticeship schemes are advertised, every single permanent job on [channel name] is advertised. But a lot of the freelance work that happens in this industry is
not advertised. So, it’s a real challenge […] It’s often people they know who are filling these up.

Employer in the film, TV, radio and photography sector

But advertising jobs and recruiting in a traditional way can be an issue for small organisations:

A lot of work can happen with small organisations by word of mouth… even [to] go writing a job description, advertise a job, doing two rounds of interviews, is actually time-consuming […] this is what they’re trying to challenge in the university.

University representative

Lack of awareness of opportunities for young people

As a result of the factors outlined above, many employers and educational institutions invest in outreach initiatives– especially to groups who aren’t aware of these owing to a lack of social capital.

We’ve tended to end up with people we already have in the industry and one of the big challenges is how do we broaden out to be more inclusive? […] If you’re recruiting from a puddle, then you’re not getting as many voices than if you were recruiting from an ocean and I think that’s the big challenge.

Employer in the film, TV, radio and photography sector

Some students have taken the initiative themselves– for example by setting up networks for BAME students at arts universities and emphasising the importance
of network building among peers as well as with more experienced people within the industry.

Other further education arts specialist colleges also have schemes in place to support students, 34 and work placements are embedded in courses in order to establish contacts. Colleges devote a lot of time at the beginning of courses to exposing students to the creative and cultural industries: this helps to enhance connections, build the confidence to network, and see what it’s like to work in the sector.

Half of our students’ parents work in the creative industry, so they’ve got that stuff. But for the other half it’s how you give them those networks once they’re with us. That’s where they do get the better jobs.

University representative

Some universities have started to develop professional mentoring programmes, matching students with people working in the creative and cultural industries. Mentoring is valuable but not accessible to all, as a focus group participant reflected:

Once I kind of got in […] someone would just take me under [their] wing and then they would give me the advice and tips and tricks to make it along the way. Which is good for me but I’m also thinking that this is something that needs to be shared.

Male BAME, employed in the crafts and design sector


Given the often informal approaches to recruitment, the benefits of knowing someone – a friend or relative– already working in the sector are considerable,
illustrating the value of social capital and the challenges facing those students who have not accumulated it. A US study has highlighted the need to address gender, ethnic, and social class inequalities in terms of access to college resources and post-graduation career trajectories, after finding that graduates from these groups are more likely to find a job in an unrelated field after graduation. 35

Despite attempts from education institutions (and arts charities programmes) to fill the gaps, this level of social capital, often acquired with the support of
economic capital, is concentrated among students from more privileged backgrounds. This is compounded by the possession of cultural capital, which is looked at in the next chapter.

Participants from digital content production, visual storytelling and creative media campaigning immersion courses: Create Jobs
Participants from digital content production, visual storytelling and creative media campaigning immersion courses: Create Jobs Ketishia Vaughan
  • 33 Bingham, J. (2013, June 24). It’s still ‘who you know what you know that matters’ say two thirds of Britons. The Telegraph. Retrieved from: politics/10137928/Its-still-who-you-know-not-what-you-knowthat- matters-say-two-thirds-of-Britons.html
  • 34 See for instance the Ravensbourne SEEDS programme: development-scheme/
  • 35 Martin, N. D. & Frenette, A. (2017). Lost in Transition: College Resources and the Unequal Early Career Trajectories of Arts Alumni. American Behavioral Scientist, 61(12).