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Mixed Feelings: Having a Class Crisis
Production Company
London, UK
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Helping more people from working-class backgrounds to enter and remain in the creative industry takes awareness from those with more privilege, writes new business director for branded at Lammas Park, Mia Powell

All things considered, I’m pretty proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish, first one in my family to go to university, a reputable career, on the property ladder… Life’s pretty good, so why do I have an existential crisis every time I go back to my 100,000 population hometown? Is it the flashbacks to when I had canerows at school and the kids shouting “Seana Paul”, or is it this feeling of complete disparity between the life I once lived and the person I’ve grown to be? 

The kind of lifestyle I lead feels normal to me now, but the subtle shifts that happen after being submerged in the world of advertising for over seven years and the absurdity of frolicking around places like Soho House only really hits me when I return to my dad's place and eat Birds Eye fish fingers, chips and beans (love you Captain Birdseye). 

I’ve come to ask myself quite frequently, have I turned into a total snob? 

The answer is most probably. But then stand me next to the disproportionately weighted group of middle-class people who flood every aspect of the industry and I am taken back down a few pegs and revise my statement, with a caveat; yes but not as much as those guys. 

Marketing Week recently published statistics on the socio-economic breakdown of the marketing industry: “among the sample of 4,463 respondents, 12.5% come from a working-class background, while 10.1% identify as coming from a skilled working-class background.” 

What the hell does “skilled working class” mean? 

Another report from the Jerwood Arts and The Bridge Group says, “Although the ‘working class’ are 35% of the working population, they make up only 13% of publishing, 18% of music, performing and visual arts, 12% of film, TV, video, radio and photography, and 21% of museums, galleries and libraries.” 

So how do the 12% in our industry survive? Do we morph into versions of ourselves that no longer represent the roots from whence we came? I imagine some of us have found a space where our talent, mindset and difference are celebrated. Like other marginalised groups, finding pockets of people that come from similar experiences is a huge part of the solace. 

This year I joined ‘Common People’, a group where we can freely rejoice about our love for Malibu and Coke and not feel berated. It’s one of the many groups I’ve joined over the years to feel a sense of belonging in this quite elitist space. 

However, comradery shouldn’t have to only exist in microcosms, birthing a culture that allows people to be their authentic selves, whatever iteration that may be, is fundamental for the continual growth of the industry and its creative output. 

Since 2017 there has been a 30% decrease in the number of people from a working-class background. This regressive state is a clear indication we’re not doing enough to employ or retain the talent from this bracket. Understanding that someone may not be able to afford to get to an interview because of their situation, or someone not knowing what a steak tartare is at a client dinner and feeling too conscious to ask, is more telling about the people surrounding this individual, rather than the individual’s own need to change.

We don’t need a handbook on etiquette, we need a handbook on awareness. Most of the time people don’t even realise they have a biased experience. 

Edgar Schein speaks about organisational assumptions that are usually “known,” but are not discussed, written or easily found. They are comprised of unconscious thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, and feelings, ingrained into the culture of an agency, usually comprised of people who have historically cottoned on to ways through years of exposure. 

Since assumptions are not dealt with openly, they cannot easily be addressed or changed, especially when we now live in a hybridised working model and the process of osmosis is less likely to transfer these subtleties. For those first-timers coming into the industry who are freaking out, thinking they’re going to have to pay for a round of drinks (that are actually free) it can be a little daunting. 

But there’s a fine line between education and patronisation, the most important thing is people being able to feel comfortable having these conversations, and that goes both ways. 

Whatever socio-economic bracket you come from, like with any kind of difference, it needs to be embraced holistically. The perspective and insight one person has can really elevate and create much-needed nuance in the stories we as marketers are trying to tell. Invite these people into your agencies, brands and companies but also don’t expect them to change when they do come into the ecosystem. Not everyone wants to drink the proverbial commercial Kool-Aid, but at least help them realise it's there! 

Right now, I’m accepting both my love for organic wine and fish fingers. The working class snob, a walking paradox living comfortably between both worlds, a slightly altered version of who I once was, but in a space where I am authentically my contradicting self.

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