Culture+ Social Impact lead Rosie Russell talks about the importance of encouraging a more diverse and inclusive Board for cultural organisations

Creative Sector Trusts, Charities and Community Interest Companies share a commitment to diversity and inclusivity.  In Dorset whilst this is mostly a genuine ambition, it is seemingly difficult to implement.

Most Boards, especially in Dorset tend to be dominated by white middle aged or older males.  They are often committed to the role and experienced in life and business, but also recognise the need for different voices and experiences within their organisations.  Actually finding, supporting and encouraging people who represent other groups in society onto their Boards can be hard work and challenging.

How can more women, younger people, people who have disabilities, people from different cultural backgrounds, different sexualities be properly represented at this level?

This is not simply a Dorset challenge.  In 2017 The Charity Commission published a paper arguing for charities to do more to encourage diversity at Board level.

The challenge of a younger voice being represented at Board level

The Dorset Early Careers Producers & Curators Network that has been meeting regularly since October 2017, discussed the thorny issue of how they individually get onto Boards and influence the sector.  These are people who are well placed to know how to represent young people best and ensure their voices are heard.

Several of this group’s experience to get onto Boards so far has met with disappointing results. One participant thought that as a young (under 30) gay woman working in the field of disability arts she would be welcomed, only to be turned down as she ‘did not have sufficient experience’.

This begs the question:

what is sufficient experience?

Equally, it demonstrates the challenge younger adults have in accessing those places of influence and decision making.  It appears to be the perennial challenge of needing experience to demonstrate experience whilst not being able to get experience to demonstrate this.

The very experience of being young, understanding and recognising some of the challenges facing younger people will help an organisation’s reach and delivery.  It is more than likely these are the people who will also be most technologically adept and recognise digital possibilities for the organisation.

There are many young people with various identities across Dorset brimming with ideas, energy and commitment, which organisations should be encouraging as tomorrow’s leaders.  This process requires time, mentoring and training for both younger and established Board members.

Here are some examples of positive ways that cultural organisations have engaged with young people:  

  • Activate has a Youth Advisory Board led by Sammy Gillingham, herself an early career producer, that feeds into the Activate Board.
  • b-side Youth Programme Co-ordinator Molly Scarborough’s work with young people informs b-side programming with this age group.
  • London’s Roundhouse also runs a Youth Advisory Board

Although not at the highest level of influence and decision making, these models make positive steps to include the youth voice in their organisations.

The further challenge is getting younger representation sitting on the Board alongside other group representatives. Diverse City, leaders in diversity and inclusivity, walk the walk as demonstrated by the diverse mix of their trustees.

Board development through Culture+

If your organisation is looking for young people to join your decision-making body then contact us for a conversation about how we can support this.

Firstly, you may wish to consider the following questions before recruiting a younger voice:

  • What exactly do you mean when you say you want more young people on your Board?
  • Whose is the voice you seek to represent?
  • What is your offer for young people?
  • What mechanisms do you have for listening to their voice?

Similarly if you’d like advice and guidance on your overall Board development contact the Culture+ team.

Illustration by Bridie Cheeseman