London-born Jason Fulton is the founder of This Memento, an insights and strategy agency based in Amsterdam. Over the last 10 years his company has worked with global brands from Nike to Sonos to Carhartt Workwear. Before starting the agency, he worked as a designer, in sales and marketing for Diesel and a consumer culture director at Nike.
Making a positive change to address the lack of diversity in the creative industries is an issue never far from his thoughts - as someone who has almost always been the only minority. He notes that he’s been: the only black researcher, moderator, and workshop facilitator in the room; the only black senior manager in a position of influence inside a brand team and a marketing team; the only black leader in a client management team; and, in the Netherlands at least, the only black businessman in the field of insight and strategy.
LBB’s Alex Reeves asked Jason how we can go beyond repetitive lip-service to diversity and talk about the economic, social and structural changes that might lead to progress.
LBB> What do you think are the major economic factors driving the creative industry's lack of diversity?
Jason> In my opinion, there’s no investment in creative industry HR departments to find alternatives to the creative status quo. Right now talent scouting is like an algorithm pre-programmed to find new creatives that look like the current ones floating around the creative studios.
Additionally creative schools and courses cost an arm and a leg and need a lot of financial investment for laptops, tech devices, other materials from students. This is such a huge barrier for some.
So potential talent from crappy neighbourhoods and disadvantaged backgrounds don’t get exposure into this elite world. There’s no obvious or easy access to the right education, role models and network necessary to get into the creative industry.
LBB> How do internships need to change to allow for a more diverse intake?
Jason> If you’re dealing with an intern from a diverse background, mentors need to change the paradigms on how they’re judging talent and success.
An intern may not have the same reference points or class-oriented upbringing that (honestly) people in the creative industry have; they could chew with their mouths open, burp at the table, or seem to have an ‘attitude’, but given the right sort of support and encouragement they can bring a bass energy to a team because they have great intuition, from a different background.
Pre-judgements and expectations towards people from diverse backgrounds, from people managing internship programmes needs to be erased, or reprogrammed and people need to feel safe enough to whistleblow and call BS when they see it.
LBB> When it comes to sheer cash, where should agencies and creative companies put their money to improve diversity?
Jason> HR teams from agencies and companies need to get real and get out there. They need to stop going to the same universities, art colleges and talent fairs and they need to invest in outreach programmes.
They need to go to the places where they feel uncomfortable, put on or buddy-up to create mentorship programmes with local organisations so that diverse people in more numbers get to know what the creative industry is about and then sign them up!
LBB> How do salaries play into this discussion and how do you feel attitudes and behaviours need to change on this?
Jason> If we talk about remuneration, I think there needs to be some realism on both ends of the employment spectrum. On one end, employees need to incentive employees, mentees and interns with clear paths, plans and experiences. It’s not solely based on having a great salary. Young people getting into the industry and people from deprived situations don’t want to be exploited (for sure) but in my experience, they want leaders to trust them, give them responsibility, feedback and have a career path.
And on the other end...young people need to stop expecting to get paid 40 grand straight out of the gate! They still have to earn respect from employees through talent and hard graft!
LBB> Anything else you'd like to add?
Over the years I’ve been involved with masterclasses in deprived London and Amsterdam neighbourhoods, talking to belligerent but such hungry kids who just don’t know how to get ‘in’. And right now I’m in the Soho House Routes In mentorship programme. If some colleges, agencies and companies got involved with initiatives like that; maybe we’ll see a change. I’m forever hopeful.