The future workforce, diversity and social mobility

Melanie Abrahams,  12 March 2018

Do we ever question what we mean by diversity? Do we feel that ‘we know it when we see it’. What about diversity that we can’t see? Melanie Abrahams, founder and Creative Director of Renaissance One and Tilt, considers what real diversity looks like.

Do we really understand diversity?
Do we really understand diversity?

In the run-up to our 2018 National Conference, we are running a series of think-pieces by sector leaders about key issues affecting our creative industries and the future of the workforce. 

I am interested in, and keen for, social mobility to be working at all levels of the creative industries; for everyone to be able to make the most of their talents and abilities.

A large part of my work is engaging practically in diversity. It’s part of my everyday work and life and I address gaps in provision through initiatives, work opportunities, and mentoring.

Diversity as defined as ‘a range of different things’ (Oxford Dictionary) suggests a variegation, an occurrence of range and variety in the world. It is so. It is natural. 

Diversity as defined as ‘a range of different things’

With this definition, protected characteristics become characteristics.  We are all part of the whole.  We’re all to be treasured.

This natural occurrence of diversity should be reflected. Without it, equality, representation and access are lacking.  Diversity rather than being an add-on, a new commitment or a strategy, is as it is.

Diversity is about more than just ‘looking the part’

Our future workforce is this diversity.  If we don’t naturalise our approach and regard and reflect diversity in all its forms across gender, race, disability, sexuality, class and background, it will always be additional to our everyday lives and we will miss out on talent, ability and local and cultural knowledge that are vital assets to a workforce.

Too often in the creative industries, diversity is depicted - whether on posters, billboards or via initiatives - by a lone, often happy or reflective individual, in the frame e.g. a disabled person. 

Someone or some people are being left out when we make it about this.  Cherry picking as well as simplifying, marginalises, to give two examples, those with invisible disabilities and those who ‘do not look the part’. 

I often wonder if the people in the frame have, in reality, agency and meaningful change ahead of them, as implied from the carefully-arranged aesthetics. 

We need to be diverse about diversity 

We need to reflect the many in diversity – the many people who make up our cultural ecology.  For me, it involves an act of curation, of assembling (curation having origins in Latin ‘to care’ and ‘to care for’).   We should reflect diversity on a large-scale as it exists on a mass scale.

We should shift the top-heavy power focus away from institutions and organisations, to a more fluid appraisal of our cultural ecology as comprising institutions, organisations and individuals – a vibrant mix of artists and practitioners, organisations and entities, connectors and influencers, and more, who operate at grassroots and institutional levels and everything in between. 

Making more explicit the examples of our cultural ecology, including the varied and vast contributions of freelancers and artists would be an encouragement and an inspiration to young people looking for career models. 

The future workforce needs this variegation. After all small and micro-businesses are a vital part of the future workforce and represent over 95 per cent of UK businesses.

The constellation of our diversity in the arts should be more evident.  As it grows, stretches and evolves the canon daily, so should we evolve in the way that we define and embody it. We need to be diverse about diversity. 


Melanie Abrahams is a curator, producer and speaker. She is a founder / Creative Director of Renaissance One and Tilt.

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