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Diversity drives creativity: Design Bridge joins Creative Mentor Network

Diversity in the creative industry is a much-debated topic. In fact, it’s more than just a topic. It’s a challenge, and one that can feel daunting to tackle – on an organisational level, but also on a personal level.

We’re involved with programmes like D&AD Shift, which is aimed at nurturing creatively talented people who have not been through formal arts or design education, and we have 2 ex-Shifters working full-time with us in our London Studio, plus our New York team is also getting involved. Our newest initiative has been to join Creative Mentor Network (CMN), a not-for-profit organisation on a mission to make the creative world more inclusive…

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Rebecca Clarke, a Senior Designer in our London Studio, explains how it came about: “I decided that I wanted to use my spare time and creative skills to do something to help promote change and inclusivity. I’m very aware of the lack of diversity in the creative industry, but I wasn’t sure how I, as an individual, could help. I decided to Google ‘mentor schemes’ and that’s how I found Creative Mentor Network. After a quick look at their website, I knew that it was exactly what I was looking for – a way to use my skills and knowledge of the industry to help young creative people from diverse backgrounds.”

Along with fellow designers Beth Stone and Fahud Ahmed, Rebecca has joined CMN and will be embarking on its Mentor Development Programme. They’ll all be trained to become effective mentors before being teamed up with their own mentee – a young person from a school in London who shows creative promise yet lacks the support, knowledge and connections to find creative opportunities once they leave school.

Here are Rebecca, Beth and Fahud to share what being part of CMN means to them, and what they hope to get out of it…

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Rebecca Clarke, Senior Designer

There’s a general lack of knowledge amongst many young people that creative industry jobs exist in the first place, and that’s largely down to a lack of information provided at school. This is made worse by cuts to Arts education in schools, which not only sends the message that more academic subjects like Maths and English are more valuable and will lead to better career options, but it also means that many young people don’t have the opportunity to study creative subjects. This is especially the case at schools in lower income areas, which is where CMN focuses its efforts.

I studied (and loved) Fine Art and Painting right up until I finished my A-Levels, but I always knew that I didn’t want to be a traditional artist. Luckily I had a great Art teacher who encouraged me to continue onto a foundation Art course, and that’s where I got my first glimpse of the huge amount of creative career options out there.

Not everyone has that encouraging, knowledgeable teacher to point them in the right direction, or a personal connection to the creative industry to help guide them, so by joining CMN I hope that I can shed some light on creative career opportunities to students whose schools or families cannot. I hope that by becoming a mentor I can inspire a talented young person to feel empowered and confident that they can turn their creative passion and natural abilities into a career that they love.

Bethany Stone

Beth Stone, Comms Designer

So many of us in this industry seem to stumble upon our creative careers. It’s not until we leave school that we somehow discover the amount of artistic (not just “art”) fields of work out there. The lack of knowledge about these opportunities when you’re at school or college can make it feel like an incredibly hard world to break into, especially if you don’t have the support or advice you need to help you get into these kinds of careers. And just imagine, on top of this, that you’ve never seen a role model working in the creative industry that looks like you or has a similar background. Think about it. How does the creative world look to someone on the outside? How can they see the room for their potential when all the room is taken up by white, middle-class, university-educated men? It’s up to us to change this exclusive view into an inclusive one.

That’s what I feel CMN is doing, and they are doing it at the right time; before these potential future creatives step out into a world, where their next step is crucial to where they’ll be and who they’ll become. CMN ensures that people don’t have do this alone, and that they have the tools and support they need. And that’s what I want to help with.

Not only do I want to learn more about the issues these young people face and how we can take steps to change this, ultimately I just want to make someone, especially at such a young age, feel confident. Confident in themselves, in their abilities, and in their future – especially if the creative industry is where they will thrive. I want them to be able to see their potential and not feel excluded for any reason – class, gender, race or ethnic background – but to give them a platform to be seen and heard, and actually bring forward those parts of their lives and identities to bring new perspectives and better creative ideas. After all, that’s the goal we are all striving towards in the creative industry.

CMN itself is a great example of a diverse team working towards the unified goal of showing talented young people new doors. The next step is that we, from the inside of our industry, need to open them.

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Fahud Ahmed, Realisation Designer

I studied at Ravensbourne, which is arguably one of the most diverse creative education hubs in the UK. I was surrounded by so many different people from all walks of life, social demographics, and cultural beliefs. Fearless young creatives broke the status quo, confidently presenting their visions with pride and no judgement. Then we all graduated, only to realise the disconnect between the buzzing inclusive environment we experienced during our education compared to working life in the creative industry.

Multi-cultural communities co-exist in schools more effectively now than in previous generations, and young people embrace difference and grow up with a much more inclusive perspective on life than ever before. So why does our industry still not reflect the diverse environment of universities, colleges, schools, or even the broad variety of people we are making the creative work for? In fact, why are we still talking about ‘diversity’ being an issue in the creative industry after all these years?

Let me set the record straight, this isn’t yet another rant about there being too many white faces in the creative industry. Diversity is more than race. It’s about cultures and demographics, backgrounds and experiences, new ways of thinking and approaching creativity, and so much more besides.

What seems to happen is that our industry recruits juniors from the same trusted universities who, on merit, churn out the best talent. Yes of course we want the best talent. I’m not saying that we should stop doing this. We just need to see the bigger picture – the talent pool we recruit juniors from is not diverse enough to begin with.

We can sit here all day discussing the same broken record about why the industry isn’t diverse enough and why we should all care. Instead, why don’t we stop talking and do something about it? That’s why I have become a mentor – to give young people from all backgrounds, most of whom won’t know about career opportunities in the creative industry available to them, a beacon of hope and opportunity.

So often it’s the more daring and youthful minds that can teach us something new, particularly when it comes to embracing technology and expressing yourself (or your brand) creatively via digital platforms – that’s just part of growing up and how young people shape their identities. Diversifying our insight and thinking will enable us to broaden our minds collectively, and ultimately make better creative work. That’s what we all want to do, right?

Diversity & Inclusivity

To promote our involvement around the Studio, the team created an internal campaign featuring bold, provocative statements related to diversity (or lack thereof) in the creative industry to stop people in their tracks. We then invited Isabel and Rochelle from CMN to run a Diversity & Inclusivity workshop and educate us further on the challenges that young people in the UK face and how we, as members of the creative industry, can help.

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We’d like to say a big “thank you” to Isabel and Rochelle for taking the time to come and speak to us, and we’ll be checking back in with Rebecca, Beth and Fahud later on in the year to see how they – and their mentees – are getting on.

Want to learn more about Creative Mentor Network and how you can get involved? Visit their website now!

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