Diversity Spotlight: The past, present and future of the Creative Mentor Network

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In this Diversity Spotlight, we speak to Miles Zilesnick, Senior Marketing Manager at the Creative Mentor Network. We ask Miles to take us back in time to find out how the CMN came to be and also give us a sneak peek into the 2022 pipeline. We also get his thoughts on why it’s so important for initiatives like this to exist when it comes to expanding diversity and inclusion in the UK Creative Industries.


Can you tell us more about what the Creative Mentor Network is and why it was started?

Miles: Creative Mentor Network is a charity built on making the creative world of work more inclusive, specifically to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. It was set up in 2014 by our CEO Isabel Farchy. Isabel’s experience working with young people highlighted the extra barriers people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds face when trying to access the Creative Industries and also the difficulty in progressing when in it.

The primary way we look to solve these problems is through our mentoring programmes that work two-fold. Firstly, mentoring gives young people the support to improve key skills and helps them develop a network of their own. Their mentors also support them on specific projects or goals they want to achieve.

Our mentors also receive inclusive leadership training and are educated on industry problems so that they can become advocates for socioeconomic diversity and help create change from within the industry.

What are the main issues you’re trying to combat?

Miles: Firstly, there are issues within the industry itself. Just 12% of people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds work in the Creative Industries, despite representing 44% of the UK population. This is a complex problem that’s fuelled in part by recruitment issues. Many jobs are found through existing networks that exclude ‘perceived’ outsiders from sometimes even applying.

Education is also a big challenge. Careers services are underfunded and outdated, which means many students are unaware of the jobs that are on offer. This is made worse by a curriculum that de-prioritises the arts, focuses on exams, and often ignores creativity and practical skills.

Finally, within lower socioeconomic households, the Creative Industries are often seen as a risky career choice as little is advertised about the range of careers available, meaning the few that do consider this as an opportunity are put off at an early age.


Why do you think it’s so important for initiatives like this to exist?

Miles: It’s been clear over the last few years that businesses care more about DEI than ever before. Employees look for diversity in businesses when looking for work and it’s been shown to improve business performance too.

But we know that the day-to-day can get in the way of projects to support this, which is why our programme is so important. Not only do companies make a firm commitment to change when they sign up with us, but every mentor that goes through our programme receives the training to become an inclusive leader and coach. They are also educated on the problems that exist and given tools to help create change in their own businesses.

In our 2021 Impact Report, we saw that 86% of mentors would contribute to their company’s diversity and inclusion strategy after being on the programme. This helps create advocates throughout the industry that can help be change-makers on the inside.

What has been CMN’s greatest achievement so far?

Miles: To date, we have matched over 1,000 young people with mentors across film, fashion, advertising and more industries. Picking out a singular story wouldn’t be fair as each mentee comes into the programme at a different stage of their creative journey; some have a TV script ready and need help pitching it, others are looking to develop their skills so they can get a CV together.

As a taste, we’ve had mentees graduate the programme and get hired at companies like Sony Music, set up their own businesses and one mentee even managed to raise £50,000 to help fund their dream of attending Columbia University in America.

For us, our Break The Wall programme is a huge success as our longest running programme. We are about to launch the 25th cohort for new mentees and mentors, which is really exciting.


What is CMN’s greatest hope for the future of the Creative Industries?

Miles: We are working towards a day when the Creative Industries are more accessible and inclusive so that a person’s socioeconomic background doesn’t hold them back. That’s the key goal.

To make this possible we want to see employers evolving and showing more diversity in the workforce and being transparent about it. Cultural capital plays a big part in this as employers still look for hidden traits in candidates that show they’d be a ‘good fit for the team’ but this mindset of culture-fit rather than culture-add is only limiting the industry. Instead, the Creative Industries should be looking for new voices to help them thrive or evolve, so they can add to the culture instead of just fitting in.


What do you have in the pipeline for 2022?

Miles: The next year is our biggest yet. We are expanding rapidly and not only plan on running more programmes out of London and across the UK, but also launching internationally. Our first of these programmes is with Soho House Berlin, which begins this March.

We are also growing the other parts of the charity, including our jobs board and recruitment offering for businesses, and our consultancy work where we can support creative businesses on their DEI journeys. We are also doing more work on our internal mentoring programme, Accelerate 1-1, which allows businesses to retain the diverse talent that it has recruited.