Sheridan Haynes is Project Assistant at LCF.
In hindsight I feel naïve as hell when I look back at 21-year-old me. I think education had left me with the false premise that meritocracy would prevail in all instances pertaining to life. I had always assumed an A* was an A* no matter what and thus assumed that if you do A and B, C would surely happen. I was adamant there was a formula for success and a qualification would guarantee me a career.
I would say from the age of 16-years-old until now, I have been directing my career with no real knowledge of how to navigate the industry. My parents, family and cultural background lean heavily towards traditional careers and blind faith that becoming an accountant, a lawyer, a doctor or the president of the free world (big up Barack Obama) is the only acceptable career paths to go down.
Although I would argue any career, in the creative world or not, is equally as challenging to get into without strong networks, it came as quite a shock to me how many factors come into play to get that “dream job”. This is a hard pill to swallow when you’re a worshiper of the congregation of the “education education education” church.
Perhaps discovering that the notion that certificates and academia can be a great equalizer, is in fact a myth that has been the medicine I needed. It has helped me recognise that the chances of getting the job were just as likely for me: the branded BAME applicant, as it would be for “John Smith” when sitting opposite the employer.
Having worked in the industry and securing a place on STEP, I would honestly say the biggest help for me and my endeavours, were finding a mentor and being in a placement where I could network and dip into many creative projects. I can’t believe I had not sought to find a mentor earlier, it really would have saved so much time and tribulation.
I now have 3 mentors: a personal development one, an industry one and one that focuses on entrepreneurialism. GET A MENTOR! Anyone who is a few steps above you, anyone who is where you hope to be career wise or character wise; trust me it is a Godsend! It is so empowering to have someone who is able to talk over your career woes with you.
I had thought my biggest barrier to getting into the industry was the fact there is little diversity in my sector and yes this is true. However, I now know in an industry of “who you know” you must find a way to be someone of interest.
When an employer is looking to fill that gallery position, that fashion studio position, that “insert your dream career here”, they are most likely not posting it on Reed.co.uk or Gumtree, they ask their networks. Which more often than not, further perpetuates a culture which appears to favour a particular type of person filling these roles.
When I think of the diverse people on my course and compare that end of year photo to my work Christmas party, it literally looks like I’m comparing the level of diversity of a 90’s United Colours of Benetton campaign poster to the casting room of an English period drama.
I’m not sure where the creative and ambitious faces we see studying alongside us, disappear to when we look at the creative industries workforce.
I know companies are now “kinda” looking to address the problem with quotas and initiatives to help positively access a wider range of people. However for me, I have always been concerned as to whether I am a creative who is black or a black creative in the eyes of my employer and whether the labelling of race inadvertently compartmentalized my creativity and capability.
I cannot begin to understand why diversity needs to be enforced and isn’t just de rigueur. However, it isn’t and that being said my “BAME” solution to the monoculture of creative industries lies in NETWORKING.
NETWORKING is not easy but in truth serves as the start to even knowing where the jobs are in the “mother cliquing” first place!
I would argue, mastering the art of finding job vacancies and creating opportunities is the initial hurdle to overcome when coming from non-traditional backgrounds into the creative industries. Because if jobs are going on word of mouth and speculative job applications, and people in the creative industries keep such a small circle of people close to them, the first step into changing the culture is to break ranks and talk to people outside the cookie mould.
I mean the creative industries do seem to be shockingly un-representative of BAME people, so what does it mean to answer, “what is your ethnicity?” on the job application? What about accounting for class, gender, name, what school you went to, and a whole plethora of other things that come into play when tackling the selection process.
I think the best way to overcome lack of representation in the creative industry is to gain a network of people in your field, or people connected to your field, and lend yourself wherever you can. Be memorable, be enthusiastic and be tactical in the knowledge that every person you meet can vouch for you to someone they know and can leapfrog you into a wider net of people to connect with.
I wish I had known how important networks were at the beginning of my career and had not beat myself up so much for not having that “I’ve made it” moment, when in truth the route to success is a collaborative project!
I would not have come to this realisation were it not for the opportunities STEP has given me. I wondered aimlessly, going from place to place, with no cohesive lateral growth and anchoring. The mentors and training days have been really life changing for me. I have now found an approach to obtaining my goals and measuring my success.
I have been proactive and committed to securing my future, and armed with the experiences I have had with STEP and my placement, I have managed to get three amazing opportunities lined up for my future. So, if the industry won’t come to Mohammed, then Mohammed will simply not RSVP and come anyway.
I have a plan.
BIG UP STEP… BIG UP THE INTERNS… BIG UP ME