Diversity on Boards

Creative Scotland has advertised for board member(s) and a discussion has been taking place on FaceBook about whether or not board members should be paid and how they should be selected.  Several suggestions have been made about how to reform the process.  Here are some thoughts:

What is the problem to which we are seeking a solution? Is it that the board of Creative Scotland (CS) is not diverse enough (helps if you are male, over 50, live in Edinburgh, work in the finance sector, and are a keen attender at arts events during the festival but never actually worked in an arts organisation)? Is it that the barrier to greater engagement by artists and others from the sector is due to lack of remuneration or is it lack of confidence or even lack of experience?

My own view is that the rules/process for appointing board members are already in place to ensure diversity. It’s just that they are not being applied particularly rigorously. Since Nolan (Lord not the sisters), public appointments DO have to go through a process- call it a job application, a tender or even response to a potential commission. It’s all about saying who you are and what you can bring. The problem is that the way in which the rules are applied appears not to be very rigorous. And my suspicion is that in part this comes down to leadership – political leadership even. When it comes to Govt appointments—like the Chair of CS- too often in my view the civil servants encourage the ‘safe option’. On the other hand an overtly political appointment is to be deplored too. Bet there were lots of retiring Tory MPs getting appointed to paid quango chair positions in the last few months. As ever we have a chance for it to be better here. Before our FM went off to win hearts and minds in rUK, she made a very important point about diversity on boards (and I think it is in the SNP manifesto). So maybe some hope as CS follows the political lead.

However this debate started with the advert for board members – not the Chair and but these are also public appointments managed by the civil service.   Is it really the case that artists are not putting themselves forward because they would not be paid? Assuming all reasonable expenses are met – including child care- is attending 6 meetings a year a real issue for practising artists in terms of time? If it is, then yes let’s ask CS to consider setting a ‘loss of earnings’ amount and/or meet actual loss of earnings if they can be demonstrated. Can’t imagine that would break the bank. And in my experience folk who are earning will claim out of pocket expenses but not cheat – and those ‘too-rich-to- work’ will not claim because they see it as part of their civic duty.

Of course being a board member of CS should go beyond this and you should attend events/shows/exhibition locally but again most who work in the arts do this anyway (I assume either comps offered or tickets reimbursed).

The other option is to look and see what other organisation pay their board members but here we are getting in some cases into the several hundred £s a day attendance and to be honest I for one would prefer to see the money go into making work. This is OUR sector and to an extent we should take responsibility for it and work within its limits and capacity. Like academics who do not get any more money for peer reviewing articles or attending long meetings to decide who will get the research money, there is an element of doing it for the good of the sector and the standard of the work (don’t get me wrong, I know academics are paid a salary but this work is over and above teaching, research and admin- and believe me they moan about those areas but rarely about peer-review work).

Is it the case that artists are not applying to be board members? Do they think it is not for the likes of us? Given the current advert is specifically about members with finance experience, I suspect they are right to think that. But more broadly, do they feel they are not sufficiently skilled? Is that down to how the adverts are framed or is is more to do with not wanting to sit through boring meetings? Or, heaven forfend, have they witnessed boards of arts organisations demonstrate a complete lack of diligence and skill, and want to be no part of a board as a result?

So I suppose I am saying if we want more diverse membership on CS board, there needs to be a clear message saying ‘artists welcome’; a reasonable loss of earnings amount offered for freelancers; out of pocket expenses reimbursed. We should encourage this engagement as part of a broader desire to see good decisions and good work. Over an above this, we need to really start taking seriously the role of boards cross all arts organisations. I have seen some shockers – and some good ones- but mainly the former. Good well-functioning boards are good ‘feeding grounds’ for larger bodies like CS- and also good for the sector.


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