Thought Leaders in association withPartners in Crime

Getting Diversity Right: Why It’s Not As Easy As We Think

Production Agency
London, UK
While acknowledging the progress which has been made, female owned creative production company Another co-founder Helen Parker argues that the journey to lasting success will start with the grassroots

When has meaningful progress ever been quick or easy? It takes time, and when it happens it’s worth celebrating. The good news is that, particularly when it comes to what we see in front of the camera, our industry has made important strides forward when it comes to diversity. Thanks in large part to the hard work of activists and campaigners over the course of several years, it’s now more commonplace than ever to see people of colour, women, and LGBTQ+ people featured in ads. 

On the other side of the lens, however, it’s too often a different story. It’s vitally important that we keep asking ourselves ‘who made this ad?’ - and if the answer continues to be a group of people who come from a similar background and who all look the same, then there’s a real issue at hand. 

Regrettably, the uncomfortable truth is that things behind the camera (and in production more generally) look remarkably similar to the way they did a decade ago, despite conversations about diversity taking place every year. Part of the reason is that, even now, diversity itself remains a misunderstood concept. 

Understanding diversity means accepting that it is an issue whose roots run deep - deeper than quick-fix solutions can solve. A recent report published by the BFI and ERIC is a helpful reminder of just how far you can trace the origins of the issue. According to their data, just 19% of 13-16 year olds in UK schools say they ‘feel informed’ about the screen industries as a career path. That’s in contrast to the 41% of teenagers who ‘wish they knew more’ about our industry. That’s a shockingly low number of young people who can visualise a way into filmmaking as a career. 

Consider the impact that can have, even to well-intentioned decision makers later down the line. I’ve heard one instance where an agency who ‘blind tested’ for potential directors ended up with an even less diverse shortlist than before, because diverse talent needs opportunity to improve their portfolio. As a result, many good-hearted initiatives end up failing to move the needle, or inadvertently making the situation worse.

Mentorship is one obvious solution which can make a real impact. It’s something we encountered within Another whilst working with Guinness’ Gender Progression Initiative, when we were tasked with creating a film about Jacqueline Nsim’s dream of becoming a professional footballer in Cameroon. The initial idea was to work with a British male creative director but we suggested that a local Cameroonian director - Doreen Funju – be mentored on the shoot by the British creative director. This gave the film authentic insight through the gender and culture lenses, resulting in a really powerful piece of work. We also worked with a local all-Cameroonian crew on the film - standard practice at Another, encouraging a more sustainable approach to production. By taking a step back from the initial “how it’s always done” directive, we were able to suggest a diverse and authentic approach that ultimately benefited the creatives, brand, and audiences alike. 

Zoom out to the big picture, however, and an underlying tragedy begins to take shape. In 2022 we have more clients and brands than ever before who want to invest in diverse talent for their productions - but getting that talent into the industry right at the entry point is still proving to be a huge challenge. For those of us who wish to see more progress on this issue, it’s that point of entry where we need to focus our efforts. 

The Root of the Problem

Recently, our team had the pleasure of working with the director Samona Olanipekun. He told us that “the lack of an official route” into the industry was challenging and daunting. As his family didn’t have any connections, he wasn’t aware that a career in film was even a possibility. “I’ve never had a mentor and had to learn myself, connecting different elements through instinct,” he told us, adding that “it took me 10 years for it all to come together.”

For Samona, that access to key mentorship came along late - and for others, it never arrives at all. This, fundamentally, is what needs to change. I was recently at one of the top degree shows for photography, and my conversation with the course’s lecturer was sobering - if not wholly surprising. Despite the fact that the course was made up largely of women, the lecturer said that the majority will never work as photographers because they lack the confidence to enter historically male spaces. What they also lack are the connections, the mentorship, and the confidence of the industry that they’re worth taking a chance on. This, again, amounts to a smaller pool of women photographers to choose from down the line. Ultimately, it’s a perfect storm designed to create the circumstances for the industry to say “there are no women (or insert any other minority group here) for us to work with”.

To change the industry’s future, we need to start planting seeds now. At Another, we’ve been trying to ‘walk the walk’ for a few years, notably with our female-based initiatives. We co-created Equal Lens, for example, a not-for-profit organisation established in 2019 to champion the work of women and non-binary photographers. Our community of photographers offers the perfect pipeline for brands and media owners looking to connect with more diverse talent.

We’ve also established a mentorship program that pairs female photography students with an award-winning commercial photographer - providing financial support, training, and valuable hands-on shoot experience. Sponsored by Deliveroo and SimplyBe, the scheme is in place across over 40 universities and offers winners three months paid work experience in London, giving them the opportunity to shoot a social campaign for their brand sponsor. 

Looking beyond the above, however, we’re conscious of expanding and opening our initiatives up to a more diverse, inclusive base. It’s not an easy task, it’s taken a lot of free time - and it’s certainly not perfect yet - but it’s important to continue making progress. 

We’ve got plans to launch a new initiative in schools and academies, for example, and want to talk to forward-thinking brands to make this happen. Whilst these are small examples in the context of the industry as a whole, it shows how the path to a brighter, more diverse future begins at the grassroots. As Samona says, “advertising is a huge industry we encounter every day yet for young people, there’s no connection between it and a route to joining”. 

Samona is right. We all need to continue to learn and acknowledge the issues at hand while looking at the ways we can start to make a difference today. And whilst it may not seem like an easy route, this effort will be reflected in the final product. Giving extra time and dedication to the hiring process will allow us to avoid safe options and build a team that has unique, valuable viewpoints. There’s an opportunity to build inclusive environments, breed new ideas, be more reactive, and take worthwhile creative risks. As Samona notes: “When I hear stories about a lot of my favourite films, commercials, and campaigns, often there’s quite a diverse team behind it. Diversity in thinking is a valuable resource.”

Ultimately, by creating entry routes for diverse people in our industry, we can ensure that we’re not only reaching increasingly diverse and culturally sensitive audiences, but making the best work possible.

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