Who will pick up Sir Peter Bazalgette’s diversity baton?

“Diversity,” the Work Foundation reported nearly a decade ago, “is critical to the continuing success of the creative industries”. Recent controversies over the lack of diversity in nominees to the Oscars and the BRITs contribute to a sense that we’ve not moved forward over the intervening period.

This impression, however, is not wholly accurate. “Some excellent progress has been made,” recently wrote Ed Vaizey, a minister holding a large funding carrot in one hand and a diversity stick in another. This progress has been most rapid in the parts of the creative industries where this carrot and stick are most relevant.

At an event at Birmingham City University last Friday, chaired by Vaizey, attendees heard about advances made by Arts Council England (ACE), British Film Institute (BFI), and broadcasters, including Channel 4. Recently, for the first time, ACE published dataon the workforce diversity of all funded organisations with more than 50 employees. Only those projects able to demonstrate a sufficient commitment to diversity are eligible for BFI funding. Channel 4 last week published an update to their 360°Diversity Charter, which “puts a commitment to diversity at the heart of everything we do”.

These initiatives are typically triggered by leadership. Sir Peter Bazalgette, for example, has demonstrated such leadership over his tenure as ACE chair by insisting that:

“We would no longer let progress with this crucial issue be abandoned to a small group of specialist organisations, that had for years been brilliant champions of the cause – but in terms of effecting lasting change to the arts establishment, were themselves, by definition, on the outside, looking in”.

When leaders seek cultural change like this, they tend to begin with enhanced monitoring. Not only is this reflected in the workforce statistics published by ACE, but also in Diamond, a new industry-wide diversity monitoring system created by broadcasters BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Sky, and supported by Pact and Creative Skillset, through the Creative Diversity Network (CDN).

Only when the extent, or otherwise, of diversity is revealed through such monitoring can the impact of related policy initiatives be tracked. These initiatives and monitoring are intended, however, only as staging posts to a more wholesale embrace of diversity, giving this issue a day-to-day prominence in the decision making of cultural organisations at least equivalent to all others.

Alas, not all creative and cultural sectors have a Bazalgette. Nor the initiatives and monitoring that follow from such leadership. Thus, in their absence, these sectors remain furthest from hardwiring diversity considerations into their organisational methods and DNA.

It is these sectors, largely sustained by commercial success and more removed from Vaizey’s carrots and sticks, that are now most at risk of complaint about a lack of diversity. Putting a commercial focus before diversity is, however, self-defeating, according to McKinsey research that reveals that diverse workforces aid commercial success. The Bazalgettes of the more commercial, less publicly funded end of the creative industries will have the bottom line, as well as moral force, on their side.