The Cost of Diversity
How the price of entry for creatives is impacting the makeup of our industry
A few weeks ago, I was writing an application for an upcoming three-day masterclass in Sydney. The first of its kind, it was aimed at creatives from across the industry to address issues around diversity.
On paper it sounded amazing. I found myself excited that there was an opportunity for the industry to come together over an important — if not integral — topic, and make some real headway in addressing the issues that are preventing minorities from becoming industry leaders.
As part of the application process (there were only 80 spots available) it asked two questions, including this:
What do you feel is causing a lack of diversity in creative industries?
Unsurprisingly, my first draft was over a thousand words long. I had a lot to say. I could go on here forever about my frustration over gender inequality, pay gaps, designing for majorities and even how we prepare for futures where we can inadvertently create AI to be biased (no really, this happened recently). But maybe that’s another article.
Ironically, the topic of this article is something I left out of my final application, but something I look at now as needing to be discussed: how the enormous cost of entry into the creative industries is contributing to our lack of diversity. We often associate the word ‘diversity’ in the context of the industry with race, gender or sexuality (and rightly so, there’s a lot that needs to be done in those areas) — but we tend to neglect the importance of the perspectives and conversations that diverse socio-economic backgrounds can add.
So how much does diversity cost?
If we start with education, most major universities offer design or visual communication courses with varying entry requirements. The advantage of these are that they, while expensive, allow students to defer their loans and pay once students earn above a certain threshold.
But say you decide to enter into the industry late or without a mark from high-school that meets the requirements. Enter private colleges. It’s easy to see their appeal as specialist operations that fast-track your creative career. Fantastic for some, but only those who can afford the $14,000 (Shillington) upfront payment for a 3-month course (that’s almost 6 times the cost of a trimester at UTS Visual Communications), or the $21,000 for a 1-year course at THINK Education/CATC (almost the same cost as a four-year university undergraduate degree with honours).
Once enrolled any of these university or private courses, the next big bill is hardware and software. A new Macbook Pro? $2,000 (at best). Adobe CC Student subscription? $343 for the year. These are the mandatories, but add in printing, additional hardware (cameras, Wacoms) or software (Sketch, Coda) your units might require and the costs get higher.
Now put that in the perspective of a student who works in their (limited) spare time to pay rent and bills without the luxury of living at home. Very quickly, this starts to become an industry for the well-supported and affluent only.
If these weren’t enough, the inevitability of the unpaid internship comes in to play. Young creatives are famously exploited for ‘valuable experience’ that does little to relieve the financial burden already upon them.
Perhaps you want to upskill in specialty areas or bridge a gap between education and the industry (let’s not get started on absurd requirements for juniors these days). A General Assembly UX one-week course? $5,000 (or upgrade to $13,000 for a 10 week course). The recently closed Tractor Design School? Around the $2,500 mark.
What does this mean for the industry?
Between unpaid internships, costly courses, miserable junior to mid salaries, it’s no wonder that our industry is shaping itself into one that favours the economically blessed. We’ve raised the financial starting bar so high for young creatives that we’re at risk of making our industry inaccessible to future designers, writers, strategists who have the experience that can challenge and shape how we create for all and every type of user.
Ironically, that masterclass on diversity? $800. Or more accurately, $900 after they added fees at the checkout. For many successful applicants, the entirety or part of this was covered by their agencies. But for myself and a few others I know, we didn’t have that luxury. While I was selected, the personal cost to me was too high and I made the decision to give up my spot. (I should note that there were scholarships on offer, but it was indicated that this was freelancers only.) For an initiative that is promoting inclusiveness and accessibility, it certainly comes at a price.
Diversity is a commodity that’s in short supply in a lot of areas in our industry. It’s something I passionately believe we need to fix. If we start the conversation, we need to ensure that every voice can make it to the table.