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Diversity tax break could be the change we need

CHANGING THE STATUS QUO: Companies may nally be forced to take steps to boost non-white talent both on camera and behind the scenes

IF THE government's call for companies to report their racial pay gap figures becomes policy, the entertainment sector, in particular, is likely to find itself under a glaring spotlight as an industry already tarnished by multiple accusations of a lack of inclusivity and diversity in recent years.

Across film, theatre, TV, music and dance, the industry has long been criticised for its lack of ethnic and racial diversity, and an unwillingness to look beyond the narrow pool of elite drama-school talent when casting prominent, high-paid roles.

The likelihood of a significant ethnicity pay gap will come as no surprise to most, nor will the probability of it extending beyond actors and performers to crew and backroom staff too.

We already know this to be true in parts of the industry. Take broadcast television, for example. ITN reported that their white members of staff earn an average of 20.8 per cent more than their non-white colleagues.

Add this to the fact that 59 per cent of UK films didn’t feature a black actor in a named role between 2006 and 2016 and you start to get a pretty clear picture of how serious the issue is.

The Government’s ambitions here are by no means the first of its efforts to change representation and equity at work, and they probably won’t be the last. Idris Elba took to Parliament to announce Project Diamond, an initiative to measure and improve representation in the television industry, calling for the professionalisation of our approach to representation in entertainment.

The Government’s latest announcement is a step in the right direction to ensuring our entertainment industry accurately re ects the society it represents. For those who already work in the entertainment industry, underrepresented and underpaid, the status quo needs to change radically and quickly.

Such initiatives are welcome first steps, but how can we ensure that the industry continues to move towards a more equitable, inclusive and accessible career choice for people of colour (and everyone else for that matter)?

Firstly, the candidate selection process needs a thorough overhaul. Currently only 20 to 30 per cent of castings on some of the UK’s main casting services ever make it to the jobs board, where actors can see them.

The vast majority – and one assumes the leading roles – are sent to the same exclu- sive group of agents, time and time again. How can we hold anyone to account while all of the decisions are made behind closed doors?

By opening up the casting process, so that all actors have access to all castings, with or without an agent, we would make the process more accessible, transparent and ac- countable. Any racial inequal- ity would soon be evident – finally a true catalyst for driving positive change in the industry.

Everyone in the entertainment sector, regardless of age, gender or colour, should get paid based on ability. The sooner the findings of ethnic pay gap research are announced, the sooner companies will be forced into a fairer and more inclusive approach to hiring and remuneration.

Whatever the role or opportunity, the remedy starts with opening out application processes.

Philip Large is CEO of entertainment recruitment community The Mandy Network.

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