Our October Whitespace Women event saw us taking on our biggest topic to date – the adversity women face trying to get into and succeed in the creative industries. For those of you not aware of the problem or the extent of it, here are our thoughts.

It’s inescapable that although change is happening, it’s 2020 and the creative industries are still majority white and majority male. For women of all colours, it’s still harder to enter and thrive in the creative industries. Only 15% of Creative Directors are women. 10% of Creative departments don’t have any women at all. And of the whole Creative industry workforce, BAME representation is only 11%. On top of that, there is the gender pay gap. So, what does that mean for the next generation of creatives?

It means they aren’t being taught or inspired by people like them.

It means they’re less likely to pursue creative industry careers.

It means the problem is self-perpetuating.

As part of our ongoing work as Whitespace Women, we invited some incredible women to tell their stories and be part of the discussion.  (If you missed out on watching this live, the full event can be watched here: Whitespace Women – Facing Adversity.)

 

Briana Pegado, Executive Director, Creative Edinburgh

 

Briana’s trailblazing attitude came from her parents. Both hugely influential in their fields, she had grown up watching them face and overcome adversity. She said, “I was raised by people who didn’t follow the rules” and so when perceived barriers arose, Briana knew she didn’t have to succumb. At Edinburgh University, she stood for and was elected President of the Edinburgh University Student Union (EUSA), becoming the first black woman to do so in 130 years. In her time there she spearheaded the Edinburgh Students Arts Festival, uniting the Edinburgh universities and colleges to give students the opportunity and platform to perform at the Fringe. After university, she set up a creative consultancy business, before finding her way to Creative Edinburgh.

Interestingly, it was Briana being able to see people that looked like her both succeeding in the workplace and changing the landscape that helped her overcome the challenges she would face growing up. This is the same kind of influence she has today on prospective creatives, and why she is passionate about encouraging others to follow.

 

Jessica Armstrong, Creative Consultant

 

Next up we heard from Creative Consultant Jessica Armstrong, originally from the States and now living and working in Edinburgh. Jessica found her passion for creativity early in life, but like so many of us, was dissuaded from making it a career by worried parents who didn’t think it was a viable career path.

But Jessica wasn’t going to fully turn her back on her love of creativity and instead made herself a “supporting character” by joining the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts discovering the corporate background to commercial creativity. Jessica gave our audience the invaluable advice of researching a company’s culture as much as the role when job hunting. Most inspiringly is when the right door didn’t open for Jessica, she simply built her own door, starting up her own successful consultancy and leading the way for more women to follow in her footsteps.

 

Khaleda Noon, Founder of Intercultural Youth Scotland

 

Finally, we heard from Khaleda Noon, founder of Intercultural Youth Scotland. Khaleda is a half-Arabic, half-Scottish and grew up in Perth, Scotland. Khaleda shared with us that her upbringing was challenging. Not only was she a minority within her community, but she was also a minority in her predominantly white family. In an eye-opening part of her talk, Khaleda spoke of how the everyday negative uses of the word ‘black’ shaped her perception of her ethnicity and place in society. Khaleda shared how she turned all of that on its head and used it to ensure no other child grew up feeling the same way as she had.

One of the key takeaways from her talk was “fortune favours the brave, jump and the net will catch you”. So, she did.

Khalda founded Intercultural Youth Scotland and has pushed boundaries to raise over £200,000 of funding to support projects she has created to tackle racism, support employability, provide platforms for young artists, start a youth club, and support other young activists create the changes they want to see in society. Khaleda is consulted by the Scottish Government as well as the education board and Creative Scotland.

What was so interesting and inspiring about Khaleda’s story is that her power came from within. She used her own negative experiences, positively to fan the fire and set out to create change for the next generation. Nobody told her she could, or she should, but she did it anyway. And now she’s making lives better all over Scotland.

In complete awe of the stories we had heard, we only had time for a question surrounding confidence. Both Jessica and Khaleda said that in dark times when there were no opportunities for them, they made opportunities for themselves. They didn’t know exactly what they were doing or if it would work, but they had the faith in themselves to try.

They also both note that having a strong network around you is key. Briana shared some of her tougher times with her mental health and how the creative industry can be challenging, but ultimately told our audience “don’t fear the difficulty that comes with it, it’s part of the journey”.

It’s important for women coming into this industry to remember that even well-established women like our panel are still pushing their own comfort zones. It’s not something to be scared of, it just means you’re making progress.