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Networks and Connections – 3x different stories

In one of our September workshops we focused on networks and connections and how they can support our exclude.

People are increasingly aware and coming to understand the notion of so-called inner circles, reinforced by unconscious bias. We also often hear that people feel that the Bristol and Bath creative sector has an in-crowd and is not as welcoming as the intention. Our key speaker Dr. Vanda Papafilippou offered detailed theory about the dynamic of formal and informal networks and panel speakers Olumide Osinoiki, Derek Edwards and Samantha Budd talked about their unique creative business journeys through the lens of networks and connections and how they have blocked or benefitted them.

Dr. Vanda Papafilippou led the session and talked about the difference between formal and informal networks and the notion that they are the result of deliberate decisions, formally organised, either by an organisation or by a professional body/stakeholders in an industry and have a clear structure. Informal networks may include work-related and/or social relationships and involve more discretionary patterns of interaction.

Vanda’s research found that several of the students she interviewed feel that big firms present themselves as ‘not discriminating’ and claim to be interviewing people from a ‘wide range of backgrounds’. In reality there werehidden processes at play which assisted some in getting ahead: ‘gaining experience’/ internships which happened primarily through mobilising their family networks. Middle class (white) students already knew the ‘rules of the game’, as opposed to their working class counterparts who focused exclusively on their studies.

For many, frustration lies in the gap between the view of a creative sector, and the reality of who is actually in the workforce, and how they make their living. More often than not, people working within a culture, and making culture, do not represent the demographic of a nation, showing us how important it is to work on these issues of class within creative networks. Rising Arts have a poignant programme called Whose Culture that addresses some of these issues.

When we talk about diversity and inclusion we often don’t talk about class or socio-economic disadvantage, despite the significant lack of representation in the creative sector of people who identify as having a disadvantaged socio-economic background. Networking and connecting is still heavily culturally coded and by default excludes a wide range of people.

Echoing wider research:

We find widespread and persistent class imbalances. Those from privileged backgrounds are more than twice as likely to land a job in a creative occupation. They dominate key creative roles in the sector, shaping what goes on stage, page and screen. They are also more likely to experience greater autonomy and control over their work, to have supervisory responsibility and to progress into managerial positions.”

From: Getting in and getting on Class, participation and job quality in the UK Creative Industries; Heather Carey, Rebecca Florisson, Dave O Brien and Neil Lee; August 2020.

As we found out through some exercises with SMEs in earlier sessions, most achieved their first jobs or commissions through recommendation by someone they already knew. Our speakers explored those connections and communities, and how to create access and links between who’s included and excluded in networks.

Olumide, who is three years into his creative career expressed how language can be an initial barrier for those starting out in the industry. Network events advertised with industry specific jargon and niche ‘coding’ when you arrive do not feel very welcoming for those not familiar with ‘the terms’.

In addition, the intent of organisations offering support to emerging creatives is great, but it needs to be relevant. The freelancing landscape is significantly different today, compared to the Nineties and it is extremely rare for people to ask for hardcopy portfolios nowadays. Networking is exhausting, so creating environments that have purpose and take into consideration people’s needs is key.

Derek Edwards, owner of Patwa Design ltd and a creative practitioner for over 20 years opened his talk with a spoken word piece highlighting his journey of injustice through being negatively stereotyped and being the only black owned design agency in Bristol.  

“My story is we can’t be resigned

Design for change

NOW is the time!”

(fragment of his spoken word piece)

Having people from different backgrounds behind the lens or design is one of the key ingredients to dismantling stereotypes and can help positively affect recruitment in the future.

Sam Budd talked about her shift from traditional networks to so called ‘identity-based networks’, such as the 90s ‘Ladies Club’ to ‘Black Professionals Network’. Identity-based networks are largely formed to support groups of people who have typically been disproportionately disadvantaged in the workplace and are usually not sector specific. Sam uses the Black Professionals Network as a great example of a network that inspires and promotes excellence within Black and ethnic minority professionals. However, these networks are a response to seemingly impenetrable traditional networks, whether in the creative sector or not.                                                                 

The session left us with a bunch of questions:

What would be the perfect networking event or opportunity? What is a welcoming event? Ask your colleagues, ask people who never attend despite working in the same industry.

Some suggestions included thinking of alternatives to the status quo of wine fuelled evening do’s or breakfast meet ups. Think of the timings, does it exclude people with caring duties? Think of the offer, are there special non-alcoholic drinks on offer for those who don’t drink? Think of the purpose, would a smaller crowd work better for deeper conversations? Think of the location, does it ever rotate?

Networking has mostly moved online, at least for the time being. In some respect this has opened access opportunities for some. However, we have a responsibility as people and as an industry to make sure that emerging creatives who may not have been part of existing networks prior to the pandemic are included in network opportunities.

Interested in finding out more? Drop us an email: creative.workforce@bristolbathcreative.org

Some useful, related resources:

Article: Tackling class based discrimination in British Culture

Article: Class, participation and job quality in the UK Creative Industries

Ask for advice: Rising Arts Whose Culture

Ask for advice: Babassa

One Bristol Curriculum – a new local curriculum which helps teach the diverse and representative history of Bristol and its communities.

Photo by j on Unsplash