This comment article is written by Rob Buckland, editor of Bristol Business News
Walk along almost any major street in Bristol and you will see what a diverse city we live in. It’s this diversity that gives modern-day Bristol its edge over many other places and forms the foundation for its vibrant cultural scene.
But head into the offices of any of the major businesses or organisations along that street and you’re likely to find yourself in very a different place. One that is unrepresentative of the city. One that has barely changed for decades.
This is a world dominated by people – predominately men – who are mostly drawn from the same narrow background. A world apart and detached from modern Bristol.
What is alarming in a city as vibrant as Bristol is that this seems to be the case in every sector of the economy – and not just those traditionally thought to be dominated by the old school tie set-up such as the legal or accountancy professions.
Take Bristol’s creative and media industries or its environmental sector. These are expanding far faster than the economy as a whole. Both are new, dynamic, forward-looking industries and are held up as examples of Bristol’s cutting-edge economy. They are creating skilled, well-paid jobs.
But if you’re looking for true diversity, don’t look here. Most of the media organisations that claim to represent and reflect Bristol do no such thing. When I worked at one major media company in the city the newsroom was 100 per cent white – that’s in a city where nearly a third of school-aged children have a minority ethnic population heritage.
The excuse – as it always is with these businesses – is that no-one from these communities applied for jobs there. There was zero interest in actually engaging with these communities. The result was that an organisation claiming to represent the whole of the city actually reinforced its divisions.
Ironically, it’s probably the city’s law firms – often viewed as elitist organisations – that more truly represent Bristol’s diversity these days than its creative and environmental sectors. Why? Because they have introduced programmes to encourage, mentor and support young people who previously would have been excluded from the profession due to their background.
There is a strong commitment from those at the top of these firms to creating workforces that draw on the talents of all Bristol’s communities.
Bristol’s creative industries – for all their edginess – could learn some lessons from the legal sector. Creative businesses employ nearly 16,000 people and are vital to the prosperity and image of the city. But the sector doesn’t reflect the city and its diversity.
So it’s great to see a new social enterprise, Represent, set up in the city to do something about this.
It has been launched by Joanna Randall, who runs Bristol PR agency Purplefish, and Liz Gadd, a recruiter in the creative sector in the South West, to raise awareness of careers in the creative sector including advertising, public relations, design, digital, gaming and social media.
It is being supported by Bristol24/7 along with other media organisations including Bristol Business News, Ujima Radio and Bristol Media.
But it needs more creative firms to get involved and put an end to those old excuses.
Picture: The Engine Shed at Temple Meads has been successful at attracting new, dynamic creative businesses – but where is the diversity across the city?