Improving Cultural Work: combating inequality and exclusion in the cultural and creative industries

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Media & Communication


The cultural and creative industries have been subject to growing academic and policy interest, identified as a key growth sector and central to the nation's economic wellbeing and recovery from the recession. Yet, while they have been celebrated as 'cool, creative and egalitarian' (Gill 2002) and proposed as a model for future work in post-industrialised 'knowledge economies,' entry to the sector is highly competitive and access is inconsistent, marked by unclear entry routes, internships and other forms of unpaid work, and informal recruitment.

Once in the cultural industries, the preponderance of freelance, short-term contracts, unpaid or low-paid work, long working hours and poor job security make sustaining a career difficult, especially for those with caring responsibilities. The combination of narrow labour market entry routes and precarious working conditions has adverse implications for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups, women and those from working class backgrounds, all of whom are under-represented. For example, women make up a third of the Music workforce and BME representation in London's creative media sector is just 11%, far lower than London's workforce as a whole (24%) (Creative & Cultural Skills 2008; Creative Skillset, 2010 2011).

Such figures are causing increasing anxiety in policy circles as well as among civil society organisations such as trade unions. This has been exemplified by the furore over unpaid internships which are seen to restrict access to the cultural sectors, as well as other significant professions such as politics and the law (Cabinet Office, 2009). Similar issues have been noted and are the subject of policy debate in Canada,the USA and some parts of Continental Europe (Cohen & De Pueter, 2013) and the network is deliberately international in participation, to allow us not only to undertake comparative analysis but also to learn from more activist policy regimes, notably in Canada.

While there exists a growing and important volume of academic work on precariousness and creative labour, some of which illuminates the difficulties of sustaining careers in the cultural sector, there has been somewhat less attention paid to the experiences of accessing and working in the sector among under-represented groups. Where this has been addressed, attention has tended to focus on more visible issues of difference and exclusion, such as gender and ethnicity, rather than social class. This is problematic, as social class exclusion is likely to intersect strongly with other sources of disadvantage, as its effects range from exclusion from social networks formed at school or university, to the difficulty of sustaining unpaid work and feelings of misfit and of 'not belonging' in predominantly middle-class spaces and work environments.

Addressing the absence of attention to the intersectional nature of inequalities - where gender, race, or disability are often looked at in isolation and bracketed off from each other - and exploring ways to improve the data and evidence collection in this and the other areas, is the core activity of this network. We want to understand issues of entry to the sector (unpaid work, social networks, geographic marginalisation); sustaining a career (seen to be particularly problematic for women) and quality of working life. The seminars are carefully designed to address these issues in a systematic way. The network will draw on research from the UK and internationally, and will involve not just academic researchers but a wide range of participants from industry, civil society and government. The aim is not just to add to academic work in this area, but also to inform policy development and civil society activism as a way of improving both the quality of working life and the diversity of participation in the cultural sectors globally.

Planned Impact

The proposed network is structured so that the beneficiaries include public policymakers, employers, civil society bodies such as trade unions and activist groups, and ultimately cultural workers themselves. An aim of the network is to provide evidence-based advice and guidance for policy makers and others to help improve working conditions and lead to greater equality and diversity in recruitment and retention practices. We believe this is an area that can benefit enormously from academic engagement, as policymakers grapple with issues which have been the subject of growing academic interest and research over the last decade. There is currently a disconnect between academic research, student education and labour market policy in this area and it is this disconnect that we seek to address.

The core group of network members represent academia, civil society, policy and employer organisations. In addition to the named Principal and Co Investigators they include Dave Hesmondhalgh, University of Leeds, Kim Allen, Manchester Metropolitan University, Sharon Elliott from BECTU, John Newbigin from Creative England, Sophie Hope from the Carrotworkers Collective and Tamsyn Dent from Bournemouth University. International expertise is provided by speakers from Canada, the USA and France.

Attendance at seminars: Seminars will be free to attend and each will include at least 10 practitioners and policy makers from across sectors, institutions and disciplines. Seminars will run for a whole day. Seminars 1,2,3,5 and 6 will follow the same format. A speaker will provide an overview paper in the morning summarising the state of current research in the field and the core topics for discussion. Each seminar will have between four and five respondents who will be briefed to provide 15-20 minute responses throughout the day, each followed by focussed discussion. These respondents, the majority of whom come from industry, policy or civil society will draw on case studies, policy thinking and activist strategies in their responses.

Confirmed (non-academic) speakers so far include Anne Morrison, Director BBC Academy; Bel Reed (Design Council learning / schools projects); Jackie McManus - widening participation University of the Arts London; Martin Spence, BECTU; Sophie Hope, Carrot Workers Collective; Kate Kinninmont, Women in Film and TV; Fiona O'Cleirigh, NUJ; David Parker, Director of Research at CCSkills; Amanda Rice, Head of Diversity, BBC; Sara Hanson, ITV Head of CSR and Diversity; Craig Henderson, Head of Programmes for BBC English Regions; Caroline Parkinson Director of Creative Development, Creative Scotland; John Newbigin, Creative England; Jane Martinson, Women in Journalism; Owen Jones (Journalist and writer).

Other network activity: The final workshop will be designed to think about the future activities of the network, the need for new and consistent research and data collection in this area and how to facilitate ongoing engagement between academics and policymakers. The workshop will identify urgent areas of future research and this will help in the writing of the final reports. The overall aim is to form an ongoing academic/industry/policy network to work on these issues. Publications: In addition to the plans for academic publishing (a collected edition and a journal article), two research reports tailored for policy audiences summarising the policy-relevant findings and practical recommendations will be produced at the end of the series. This will be drafted with help from colleagues at CCSkills and Creative Skillset. We consider this particularly important in light of current policy debates around internships, unpaid work and vocational education. To maximise impact, the reports will be accessible and downloadable from Media and Cultural Work website, and advertised widely through the extensive networks of the Principal and Co-applicant.


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Description The need for inter sectional work on the multiple sites of inequality in cultural industries.
The need for work on combatting inequality through policy and activism (see SSHRC grant).
The need for more detailed work on social class (see publications)
Exploitation Route I have presented my findings to trade unions, anti-intern and student activists and to policymakers.
Sectors Creative Economy



Democracy and Justice



Museums and Collections

Description I am working with the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) on co-ops in the cultural industries. The draws on this grant because co-operatives are seen as a way to reduce exclusions in cultural labour markets and provide better working conditions, Have produced a consultancy report on co-ops in the Creative Industries, supported by Co-operatives UK
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Work with SERTUC on 'Show Culturte Some Love' Campaign
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description SSHRC Insight Grants
Amount $97,000 (CAD)
Organisation Government of Canada 
Department SSHRC - Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
Sector Public
Country Canada
Start 01/2017