Question of class?
On International Women’s Day 2023 we were all asked to #embraceequity to help create a gender equal world. At Bladonmore, we explored how we could add to that conversation, so we created a short quiz to prompt people to think a bit more deeply about the issues.
We decided that embracing equity shouldn’t be just for one day and to return to these questions throughout the year through different lenses.
1 May was International Workers’ Day, providing an opportunity to frame equity and equality in relation to class.
What comes to mind when we think of May Day in the UK?
Village fetes and maypoles? Unfinished DIY? Venturing out into beer gardens? Or… celebrating ‘the power of solidarity, the achievements of working people, and the call for social justice and decent work for all?’ (Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation)
In our industry, it’s likely that the working-class political meaning of May Day is less significant than the other associations. And, in relation to our ongoing discussion about equality and equity, we suspect it gets less thought given the rise of focus on factors like gender, race or sexuality.
Social class perspective
The UK communications industry – including advertising, marketing, PR and digital media – is both a significant employer and shaper of public opinion.
Looking at the backgrounds of those employed in the industry, and consequently the range of views that inform its creative output, working-class individuals are not well represented and face considerable difficulties in both securing jobs and advancing their careers.
A 2020 report by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) found that only 16% of employees in the UK advertising sector come from working-class backgrounds, compared to 33% of the population as a whole, illustrating the disparity between the advertising workforce and the general population. (2020 Agency Census.)
Evidence from other reports highlight a range of common barriers to entry and ongoing challenges to career progression.
Social capital and unconscious bias
In an industry that relies heavily on networks and social capital to identify and recruit potential candidates, those with limited access to such connections will be disadvantaged.
A study conducted by the Social Mobility Commission (2017) found that access to networks plays a significant role in career progression, and that individuals from working-class backgrounds are less likely to have access to these professional networks compared to their middle-class peers. The report called for greater efforts to ensure equal opportunities and networking access for individuals from all socio-economic backgrounds.
Employers may unintentionally favour candidates with similar backgrounds, perpetuating the middle-class dominance within the industry. A study by the Creative Diversity Network (CDN) in 2019 revealed that employees from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in the creative industries face wage gaps and are underrepresented in senior roles. The study called for increased efforts to tackle unconscious bias, discrimination and a lack of inclusivity in the industry.
Research by the Social Mobility Commission (2019) revealed that 51% of working-class professionals in the sector experienced discrimination or bias based on their social background. This discrimination can prevent career progression in other ways too, whether it’s being overlooked for promotions or being given less prestigious assignments.
Even after securing a job, working-class individuals continue to face challenges in terms of wage inequality. According to the ONS Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (2021), workers from working-class backgrounds earned 16% less than their peers from professional and managerial backgrounds in the industry. This wage gap can significantly impede the career progression of working-class individuals.
Working-class employees are also less likely to receive mentoring and sponsorship opportunities, which are crucial to career advancement. A survey conducted by the Sutton Trust (2018) found that only 30% of working-class professionals had access to a mentor in any guise, compared to 48% of those from more privileged backgrounds. This lack of support can limit the career progression of working-class individuals, as they may not receive the guidance and encouragement needed to navigate the industry successfully.
The Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) 2020 report also lists access to training and mentoring as a factor underrepresentation of working-class individuals across the creative industries, and particularly in higher-status roles.
So where next?
We want to keep open this wider discussion about equity and equality as it relates to a range of diversity issues. And we will soon be talking to Career Ready, a national social mobility charity, to understand more about the incredible work it does to support young people who face barriers in their education and employment. Watch this space.
If you’re looking for help communicating your business’ approach to equity and equality in the workplace, get in touch.