What Does Creative Diversity Really Mean? Exploring The Research of The Design Council – By Lucy Siers

What Does Creative Diversity Really Mean? Exploring The Research of The Design Council – By Lucy Siers

A common message underpinning Fashion Roundtable’s previous diversity articles is that a more diverse boardroom within the fashion industry will ultimately lead to a more diverse output and wider audience appreciation.

The Design Council’s recent research has not only supported this message, but also added depth to it by uncovering further statistics and underpinning their message with both the positives and negatives of a diverse design workforce. The Design Council explains that a more diverse workforce will be able to understand the needs of an increasingly diverse population.

Using both the full Design Economy 2018 report and their article on the link between diversity and business performance, Fashion Roundtable looks to break down their findings and view them from the perspective of the fashion industry.

The Statistics - Gender

The statistics regarding gender diversity uncovered that the subsector we define as Design (clothing) is 72.5% female. The subsector we define as Design (multidisciplinary), that also includes clothing designers, is 63.7% female. The female dominance within fashion is perhaps somewhat unsurprising.

These figures pose as a contrast to the wider gender balance within design. Here, women form the minority in six of the eight design subsectors, with the design economy being 78% male (in comparison to the 53% male figure which applies to the wider UK workforce).

Despite the higher proportion of female participation within the fashion industry, women still earn less than men. For example, in the multidisciplinary design subsector, women working as product, clothing and related designers earn 18.3% less than men.

The statistics for the proportion of women in senior and high paying positions in fashion houses has the potential to be explored by the Design Council. Previous research by Fashion Roundtable has uncovered that females lack representation at the most senior levels, notwithstanding the high female representation within the fashion industry.

The Statistics – BAME

The statistics regarding BAME representation within the wider design economy translate more accurately into the BAME representation within the fashion industry itself. The Design Council uncovered that 13% of the design economy are BAME employees, however they are less likely to be employed in senior roles.

This statistic is slightly higher than the wider UK economy, of 11%. However, with the minute BAME representation within the boardroom, the design output cannot be perceived racially diverse.

The Economic Impact of Limited Diversity

The Design Council has investigated whether there is a relationship between the diversity of a creative industry, and their business performance. They found difficulties in their investigation regarding definitions and approaches used. The Council acknowledged “the complex range of positive impacts” of diversity on business success, coupled with “the difficulty of measuring those impacts.”

Finding statistics specifically for the fashion industry was difficult considering that they found it challenging to differentiate between designers, such as product, clothing and interior.

What Are The Benefits of a More Diverse Design Economy?

In their report, Rohwerder summarised that there are many wide-ranging benefits of diversity in the creative design industry. Benefits including:

“reduced costs; improved resourcing of talented personnel; better products and services; enhanced corporate image; improved creativity and problem-solving; better decision making; innovation; greater flexibility; increased productivity; improved organisational performance and efficiency; enhanced trust in relationships, satisfaction and commitment within the workforce; and improved customer relations and service delivery.” (Rohwerder, 2017, p.2)

The Council further built upon the indirect link of the relationship between a diverse workforce and increased sales. A more diverse workforce creates a more positive or ‘ethical’ corporate image and reputation that generates more sales by attracting a wider reach of custom. (Ozbilgin & Tatli, 2011, in Rohwerder, 2017)

The effectiveness and performance of a creative board is increased with its diversity due to the access of “unique and valuable strengths”.

These benefits easily translate into the fashion industry. Increasing diversity would bring three key elements to the fashion industry: divergence, creativity and innovation. It would provide the opportunity for a ‘rebellious’ perspective, being able to question traditions within fashion and in turn producing a line that appeals to a wider market.

Are There ‘Negatives’ of a More Diverse Design Economy?

The Design Economy acknowledged some potential ‘negatives’ of increasing diversity within the creative sectors, when in its infancy. These being summarised as:

“…diversity leading to process losses through task conflict and decreased social integration; as well as the acknowledgement that increased diversity can lead to lower commitment, lower satisfaction, more perceived discrimination, misunderstanding and other negative behavioural and attitudinal outcomes.” (Rohwerder, 2017, p.8)

Having a wider range of perspectives working together could lead to initial conflicts when attempting to find common ground. However, these conflicts simply need to be managed and the creative divergence harnessed and channelled into a positively diverse output. Over time, the ‘negative’ impact of diversity will change as the diverse workforce becomes more cooperative and effective.

This conflict should only be viewed as a speed bump. It should be understood from this ‘negative’ argument that to increase diversity, it is more than simply increasing the number of BAME and gender-diverse employees. To leverage the benefits of diversity, diversity must be embedded in the business strategy. This will facilitate steps towards a sense of engagement, inclusion and belonging from all employees. If the benefits of a diverse workforce are to be felt, diversity needs to equal belonging.

“Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance, and belonging is dancing like no one’s watching.” (LinkedIn (2018) Global Recruiting Trends Report)

This initial difficulty of diversity is only a minor bump in the process of widening and diversifying a creative boardroom. It cannot be surprising that diverse opinions will clash and struggle to work together in their initial stages. This difficulty can and will only have a positive outcome once brands start to appreciate the widening breadth of audience they can reach and the increasing level of innovation achievable with a greater range of both genders and ethnicities at the helm of a brand.  


Design Council (2018) Design Economy 2018. Design Council, London

Design Council (2018) Diversity and business performance – is there a link? Design Council, London


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