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Why don't more women enter creative industries?

May 2019

More females than males study creatives arts subjects, but a smaller proportion of women go into creative jobs after graduation. Why is this happening and how can universities and employers promote change?

The creative arts play a significant part in the UK economy, contributing billions of pounds and creating millions of jobs. However, analysis of HESA's Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) data reveals an interesting trend.

Despite creative arts degree courses being more appealing to female students, a higher proportion of male creative arts graduates actually go on to work in the sector. This has been a consistent trend over the past five years.

UK creative arts graduates in creative industries by gender
Graduation yearNumber of male creative arts graduatesPercentage in creative industries six months after graduationNumber of female creative arts graduatesPercentage in creative industries six months after graduation

According to the most recent data, 40.6% of male creative arts graduates who were in work six months after graduation were employed in the creative industries, as defined by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). This is compared to only 30.3% of their female counterparts.

Defining which industries should be classed as 'creative' and which should not is tricky. While the list provided by the DCMS is the most comprehensive available, it fails to account for the fact that many creative jobs are outside creatively-focused industries - for example, graphic designers in the manufacturing industry, actors working in theme parks, and artists working in education.

However, a similar trend is also in evidence when looking at the occupations that creative arts graduates enter.

Graduation year,Percentage of male CA grads in creative occupations,Percentage of female CA grads in creative occupations

The proportion of female creative arts graduates entering creative occupations is now at its highest in the past five years and the gender gap has narrowed slightly, though it still clearly exists.

The latest figures show that 43.1% of female creative arts graduates in employment six months after graduation work in DCMS-defined creative occupations, compared with 49.8% of their male counterparts.

So if girls are interested enough in the creative arts to choose one of these subjects to study at university - and in greater numbers than boys - why do relatively few of them end up working in the industry?

1. Many 'creative industries' are traditionally male spheres

According to the DCMS, the creative economy 'employs a lower proportion of women than the wider UK economy with 37.1% of jobs in the creative industries filled by women compared to 46.9% in the UK as a whole'.

This is mainly due to the largest sub-sections of the creative economy being traditionally male spheres - IT, software and computer services account for around one third (31.5%).

Not only are girls less likely to consider these careers in the first place, but working patterns in these areas do not always fit easily with raising a family and are therefore less appealing for women who might want to do this in the future.1

2. There's a lack of female role models

Creative directors are overwhelmingly male (96.4% in 2008) and a survey by the Young Creative Council in 2016 revealed the following about young female creatives:

  • 88% feel they lack role models
  • 70% have never worked with a female creative director or executive creative director.

3. The impact of negative placement experiences

Work placements are a fantastic way for students to gain experience alongside their education. However, without sufficient support or preparation, female creatives can struggle when thrust into male dominated industries:

'Hostile and robustly masculinised working cultures, embedded gender norms and constructions of the 'creative person' as a masculine subject were routinely encountered by young women on their placements'.2

These experiences can lead female graduates to decide that creative industries are not for them before they even begin their career.

4. The prevalence of self-employment in creative roles

A vast proportion of employment within the creative industries requires graduates to become self-employed and in many instances seek their own work as freelancers. OECD data shows that about twice as many men are self-employed in the UK as women.3 This may partly be because women can be more reluctant to confidently assert and advertise their own abilities.

How can universities and employers help?

There are some practical ways that universities and employers can work to encourage more female creative arts graduate to embark on creative careers:

  • Positive placements - universities should ensure that student placements are conducted in safe environments where their talents and enthusiasm are likely to be nurtured and given direction rather than dampened.
  • Build soft skills - alongside academic studies, creative arts students should be given opportunities to develop the soft skills necessary for working in the industry, such as assertiveness, self-promotion and confidence. In this way, graduates will be better prepared in terms of what they expect, as well as the skills that they possess.
  • Provide role models - female students and graduates would benefit greatly from awareness of and contact with successful female creatives, especially those in prominent positions such as creative directors. This could be in the form of promoting their social media accounts for students and graduates to follow, arranging one-to-one meetings, or creating mentorship programmes for these individuals to encourage and inspire young female creatives over a longer period of time. This last point is especially important for those looking to enter traditionally 'male' spheres such as the IT industry. Contact with successful female creatives could also tackle the lack of soft-skills among female graduates - demonstrating how and when to utilise assertiveness, confidence, resilience and self-promotion, and adequately preparing graduates for a creative career.
  • Forge relationships - these solutions all require stronger relationships to be built between relevant university departments and employers, and for them to work together to inspire the next generation of creatives.

This Campaign blog provides some great tips for employers looking to encourage female creative talent - while it's written with the advertising industry in mind, much of the advice can be applied across the creative industries.


  1. Cool, Creative and Egalitarian? Exploring Gender in Project-Based New Media Work in Europe, Information, Communication and Society, 2011.
  2. What Do You Need to Make It as a Woman in This Industry? Balls!’: Work Placements, Gender and the Cultural Industries, Cultural Work and Higher Education, 2013.
  3. Gender differences in self-employment rates, OECD, 2017.

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