The impact of Covid-19 and BLM on Black, Asian and ethnically diverse creatives and cultural workers

The impact of Covid-19 and BLM on Black, Asian and ethnically diverse creatives and cultural workers

By Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity


How has Covid-19 affected diversity in the creative and cultural sectors? This report highlights the negative impact of the pandemic including the reduction of job and financial security, widening patterns of exclusion and reduction of job opportunities. It also details a set of industry and policy recommendations.

This report investigates the impact of both the Covid 19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter activism of 2020 on Black, Asian and ethnically diverse workers in the creative and cultural industries. It finds that ethnically diverse participants had experienced negative impacts including:

  • reduced financial stability and job security
  • obstacles to entry, progression, and retention in the creative and cultural industries
  • ongoing forms of racial and religious discrimination within the industry
  • negative effects upon mental health.

Executive Summary

There is a history of patterned exclusion in the Creative and Cultural Industries (CCIs) where underrepresented groups tend to be characterised by differences of race, religion, migration, class, disability and more. Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact the creative and cultural industries, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests of 2020 had a significant impact on the tone and politics regarding diversity and representation in the creative industries. To investigate the impacts of both the Covid-19 pandemic and BLM, researchers from Centre of the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) partnered with Creative Access to collect data about the experiences of ethnically diverse workers who use Creative Access during Covid-19 and BLM.

This report draws on survey and interview data from Black, Asian and ethnically diversei aspiring and current workers in the cultural and creative sector collected through the Creative Access network, specifically: 720 responses to our survey and 42 individual interviews. Despite potential advantages associated with membership of the Creative Access network, this research shows that respondents have experienced a negative impact following the Covid-19 pandemic, in terms of:
a) reduced financial stability and job security;
b) obstacles to entry, progression, and retention in the creative and cultural industries;
c) ongoing forms of racial and religious discrimination within the industry;
d) negative effects upon mental health.

The survey data shows that Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns had a tangible and worrying impact on job and financial security for ethnically diverse individuals working in CCIs. Forty-eight per cent of all ethnically diverse respondents expressed that they are becoming financially unstable or need immediate assistance and 70% of all ethnically diverse respondents were worried about job security. This appears to have particularly affected those with longer experience in the sector with those who have more than 10 years’ experience in the sector expressing the most insecurity. The number of respondents who reported that they were not in education, employment or training was 18 percentage points higher in March 2021 than before the first lockdown of Spring 2020. This data shows that not only did ethnically diverse people who were working, or aspiring to work, in CCIs lose employment during the pandemic, but also those who finished their studies during the pandemic are struggling to get a job in CCIs. The pandemic and lockdowns have also led to a concerning impact on the migration of ethnically diverse talent within and outside CCIs. Fifty-eight per cent of ethnically diverse respondents said that their primary source of income changed; 30% of those respondents said they have left the CCIs for another sector.

We asked respondents to answer questions pertaining to their work circumstances before Covid-19 and during subsequent lockdowns. The percentage of ethnically diverse respondents who were in employment fell dramatically from 51% before the pandemic to only 18% during the first lockdown between March – July 2020 and by March 2021.

The data showed a clear and negative impact of the pandemic on mental health with an overwhelming majority of ethnically diverse respondents reported ‘feeling nervous, anxious or on edge’, ‘not being able to stop or control worrying’, ‘worrying too much about different things’, ‘having trouble relaxing’.

Although there is not sufficient data to link the dip in mental health to job insecurity and financial difficulty in the sector, we speculate it contributed substantially to the issue. This assumption is supported by responses from ethnically diverse creatives who filled in the open response question.

Organisations within the cultural and creative sector responded publicly to calls for the need to address inequalities and racism in wake of the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter campaigns. However, there was limited evidence of this being put swiftly into action. Only 17% of ethnically diverse respondents agreed that more unpaid/voluntary opportunities had become available as a response to BLM and only 14% agreed that more paid opportunities had become available.

Our interviewees were hesitant to name racism as a source of discrimination despite many examples and stories which suggested that they had personally experienced racism at work. Some ethnically diverse interviewees expressed uncertainty about what constitutes racism and struggled with definitions of racism, as a first step to acknowledge and name racist incidents.

Even with this hesitancy to acknowledge racism in the interviews, in the survey, 37% of all ethnically diverse survey respondents agreed that their careers had been affected by discrimination and only 17% of respondents disagreed.

In addition, a third of Muslim respondents, 17% of Sikh respondents and 15% of Buddhist respondents felt that their careers had been affected by religious discrimination.


Industry recommendations

  • The report highlights the risk of a lost generation of ethnically diverse graduates during the Covid-19 pandemic. Targeted schemes in CCIs should be launched to specifically address the loss of opportunities that 2020 - 2022 graduates, especially those from ethnically diverse backgrounds, have faced.
  • Acknowledging the informal structure in CCIs and often informal modes of recruitment, it is imperative that organisations, unions and campaigners create supported networks especially for ethnically diverse creatives and cultural workers. Similarly, access to free mentoring schemes for people from ethnically diverse backgrounds in the sector should be provided, when possible, to both support professional development and build networks.
  • The report highlights the racial discrimination that still exists in CCIs, despite ethnically diverse workers hesitancy to name racism. The responsibility for highlighting and dealing with racism should not be put on the few ethnically diverse individuals in the institution. Anonymous complaint systems should be put in place, overseen by a nominated individual trained in covert and overt racist behaviour. Organisations and institutions must become more aware of how the informal mechanisms (especially in hiring, recruitment and commissioning) and the social and cultural practices that characterise the sector can exclude or marginalise ethnically diverse workers. These should be considered forms of racism.
  • Creative companies and cultural organisations should enhance their mental health provision and acknowledge that the Black Lives Movement is likely to have placed an added strain on ethnically diverse workers.
  • Industry organisations should review any statements and actions promised as a direct response to BLM to enforce accountability and implement change. Economic investment and change of culture within an organisation will often be needed to turn statements of support into longstanding change.
  • Diversity strategies are so far failing to address issues of inequality in CCIs. Organisations need to focus on sustaining progress and retention beyond short-term entry-level opportunities. At mid-senior career Positive Action should be considered and implemented.
  • Organisations should adopt a diversity and inclusion charter. Charters should include clear definitions of both covert and overt racism, guidelines to protect workers from discrimination and accountability measures.
  • In order to attract people from ethnically diverse backgrounds, recruitment organisations in the sector need themselves to become more diverse. Active campaigning is needed to encourage people from more diverse backgrounds to enter the recruitment industry for the creative sector.
  • A key to improving the sector’s diversity is ensuring people from ethnically diverse backgrounds thrive and progress into leadership. As well as data collected by government or sector bodies, individual organisations should generate data not just on employment and retention but also promotion.


Policy recommendations

  • Financial incentives should be given to recruiters and organisations that use targeted schemes to address opportunity loss for 2020 - 2022 graduates. Any scheme developed should include specific actions to include graduates from ethnically diverse backgrounds.
  • Guidelines for formal recruitment practices in CCIs should be issued to combat the reproduction of ethnic inequality in the sector.
  • Creative companies and cultural organisations should be mandated to adopt employment targets (both for entry and senior levels) reflecting the regional and age profile of the Black, Asian and ethnically diverse population.
  • A standardised template for Diversity and Inclusion charter for cultural organisations (similar to sustainability commitments) should be created with the expectation that each organisation has one.
  • Similarly to the requirement for reporting on gender pay gap, reporting on ethnicity pay gap should be required. One example of accomplishing this could be through updating the data requirements for the Labour Force Survey.

Download the report 

R. Ali, S. Guirand, B. Byrne, A. Saha and H. Taylor, The impact of Covid-19 and BLM on Black, Asian and ethnically diverse creatives and cultural workers, Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity and Creative Access, March 2022.

This report is published under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 3.0 England and Wales Licence. Under this licence, you may download, reuse, reprint or distribute the report subject to the conditions set out in this Creative Commons licence. For commercial use, please contact:

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Resource type: Research | Published: 2022