The media sector needs to be more representative of wider society says Su-Mei Thompson

Posted 22 March 2019

Media Trust’s CEO Su-Mei Thompson was speaking as part of a panel at Wednesday’s Microsoft and the Advertising Association’s Culture and Commerce Lunch as part of Advertising Week Europe 2019 to discuss the importance of supporting young, diverse homegrown talent to enter careers in the advertising industry.

Chaired by Microsoft’s Ravleen Beeston, other panellists included CEO of youth-led creativity network, Livity, Alex Goat, and Director of advertising thinktank, Credos, Karen Fraser.

With Brexit on the horizon, the panel discussed the skills gap and the importance of developing homegrown diverse talent.

Barriers to entry

Su-Mei noted that one-in-six jobs in London is now in the creative sector while research by McKinsey shows that every employer in every sector is now looking for creativity in its workforce. However young people from non-traditional backgrounds looking to break into the media still encounter significant barriers to entry. This is why government organisations like the Mayor’s Fund for London are looking to boost social mobility within the media and creative sectors. They are doing this by supporting initiatives like Media Trust’s Creativity Works’ programme which gives young people aged 17-24, many of whom have fewer than 5 GCSE’s, the skills, confidence and access to join the media and advertising industry.

Su-Mei emphasised the importance of organisations working together and Media Trust’s plans to pursue a broad collaborative review of the skills gaps, as well the representation gaps, in the sector.

The panel all agreed that improving diversity was a top priority for the industry not just because it’s the right thing to do but because of the strong business case. Su-Mei cited the example of Unilever and its vision for the Valuable 500 which recognises the $8 trillion dollar spending power of more than 1 billion disabled people around the world and aims to make disability more visible and to de-stigmatise people with disabilities. She said:

“Given the extraordinary power of programmes and brand campaigns to change societal attitudes, it is incredibly important that we have people working in the media and creative sectors who have lived experiences of marginalised communities. There is just something wrong with the fact that disabled people are virtually invisible in ads today. And there is also something wrong with the fact that every time you hear a Black, Asian and disabled actor, they are speaking to a script written by someone who hasn’t experienced their lived reality.”

The panel also concluded that unless legacy media organisations change to make themselves places that are attractive to diverse young talent, then young people will find alternative and parallel spaces in which to work and achieve their creative potential.

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