Planning for the New World: A Q&A with Mark Atkinson
Blogs 28th March 2019 3 minutes read
Arts organisations have impressively reflective, strategic leadership with significant intellectual fire-power and are often heavily involved in community cohesion. Simultaneously, they grapple with the ‘pay-to-play’ model of governance, and often have only limited control over their board appointments. How can they deliver effective and diverse leadership in this environment of complexity and ambiguity?
Firstly, Board quality matters. Good Board leadership drives good results for service users, audiences and visitors. And Boards that are more diverse have been proven to be more financially effective.
However, charity Boards’ diversity statistics aren’t great.
As a campaigning organisation, Green Park has researched gender and ethno-cultural diversity within the top 100 charities. Our findings show that more than a third of major UK charities have no ethno-cultural diversity in their senior leadership team and 41% of senior positions are held by women.
Our track record in placing BAME candidates on Boards is a figure we’re extremely proud of, at 27% compared with the national average of 8%.
And while we know the average Trustee age is 54 and the average Chair is 65, available data on other vectors and perspectives such as disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic background is thin.
In Arts, at 42% in senior roles, the picture looks better for gender diversity, but BAME representation is only 9% and recent figures indicate that 39 of the top 50 charities, by income, have no BAME people in senior leadership at all.
Diversity matters in the Arts because it’s about how we understand, connect with and enlighten others Bringing a range of people into the room is vital. But we also need to make the value of diversity understood and translate it into action.
Of course, a diverse looking Board doesn’t guarantee different thinking. But candidates and funders look at websites and they make judgements. In our experience, what matters is curiosity, judgment and the ability to formulate a question on your feet. The more diversity there is the better the questions, and the better the thinking.
1. First, succession plan. With Boards, you know when Trustees are rolling off. What do you need for the next five years?
2. Second, build a mandate for a Board that is future-proofed, connected to its community, energetic, ambitious and equipped to hold the organisation to account in new areas (like digital strategy).
3. How will you accommodate a changing Board? Boards have a standard way of working, lots of information to assimilate, attendance patterns, time commitments and particular communication styles. How will the Board adapt for new members who have not been exposed to this?
4. What skills do you really need and at what level? For example, if you specify Board experience, you’re already fishing in a small pond and one we know lacks diversity.
5. Who is managing your appointment process? Do they have your breadth of vision on diversity?
6. Are you asking Board members to be major donors? How different will their thinking be? How will this shape the Board’s personality?
7. Is the time commitment off-putting/unrealistic for part-time workers?
8. What language are you using – is it macho? Traditional? Is it about leadership or teams? Research finds that ‘we welcome applications from all sections of the community’ statements actually put people off.
9. Articulate a vision for why people would want to join. Don’t gloss over difficulties. Be positive but honest.
• Build a pipeline – take the time to have a coffee with lots of different people.
• Hold on to your mandate, test against your priorities, but interrogate your list of key experience – what is it about this experience you really need? Should the right qualities be more important?
• Think about how you include service users to keep your appointments close to your users’ needs.
• If you’re using an executive search firm, align yourself with a supplier whose values match your own.
• Giving thought to induction and retention is vital – this is where inclusion comes in. Culture change is a vulnerable point for any organisation and needs nurturing.
• Create the culture – spend time together and build relationships.
• Make time to talk – 360 reviews, mentoring and buddy systems are important.
• Be alert to problems – if people don’t turn up or don’t say anything, don’t see this as their problem. People contribute when they feel included.
• Scrutinise yourself and your systems – is everyone getting the right support?
It was a pleasure to be a keynote speaker at the Clore Leadership Programme’s Board Diversity Day and to talk about this topic, which my colleagues at Green park and I feel so passionately about. Many thanks to all the Chairs and CEOs in the above organisations who helped us understand what really matters to arts and heritage organisations.