A fish rots from the head

There is an old saying that ‘a fish rots from the head’. For arts organisations to be seen to be truly reflective of the communities they serve, and the audience they wish to attract, they should consider the make up of their Board or Committee of Management. Leadership begins at the top.

As at 2 April 2018, CALD Australians were under-represented across every leadership role in every cultural sector, organisational type and jurisdiction included in this study. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, 39% of the Australian population — more than one in three Australians — have a CALD background. The Australia Council for the Arts has also found that CALD Australians have higher than average live attendance and creative participation rates in the arts than the rest of the Australian population. .

Utilising recent research from within Australia and overseas, art4u.australia will be providing arts organisations in Australia with access to presentations on ‘Diversity in Governance’ throughout 2021. Organisatins will be able to select from physicial seminars in Victorua during April, a self learning e-book, an online seminar via Zoom or a series of self learning videos on You Tube. All board or committee members and CEO’s are invited to register for one of these options.

Diversity in governance differs from diversity in the workplace. Firstly, governance is about leadership; showing the way. It can be challenging for the workplace to reconcile do as I say but not as I do! While difficult to achieve, creating a diverse governance group can be easier than meeting diversity goals within a workplace. Creating diverse governance shows what can be achieved when those challenges are able to be mastered. Economic pressures can impede workplace diversity measures. Governance teams do not have an economic barrier.

A key barrier to governance diversity is our unwillingness to recruit people who are different to ourselves. Doing so can make us feel uncomfortable – and we transfer our discomfit to those that are different. It’s not just about differences in gender, ethnicity, age or belief, we don’t want to introduce new ways of looking at things. We certainly don’t want people to challenge our beliefs.

Diversity in governance is not just a traditional white, anglo-saxon issue. Arts organisations established to serve CALD communities should also consider how they form their governance team. Indigenous organisations and those formed within other ethnic communities will frequently load their governance group with people from within their community. While it is important ethnic groups are able to engage in self determination, it it equally important they also introduce diversity into their leadership and decision making. Evidence suggests however, the traditional white, anglo-saxon dominated governance group experiences the greatest challenge with implementing diversity at the governance level.

Diversity in governance must be more than tokenism. We should accept that in regional or rural arts organisations it may be challenging to build a diverse board or committe, while also accepting it isn’t possible. We should accept that at least half the people living in our communities are from white European descendants and don’t have a disability or not part of the LBGQT community, while accepting that 50% of our ‘european’ community also identify as woman/female/she/her, and accepting we can look to recruit at least half of our board from members of our community that identify as people of colour, celebrate or worship different deities, have a different sexual identity or have lived experience of disability and mental health.

All we have to do is accept diversity and difference as being normal; then breathe before we jump to conclusions.

Register here for our Diversity in Governance presentations. The above is just a taste. We have a lot more to talk about as we look at what the research shows us, how we stack up in the current environment, the business case for diverse governance and provide your board or committee members with a roadmap to help them achieve greater diversity and improved decision making.

I’m John Coxon, founder of art4u.australia, a consulting agency helping arts organisations remain viable through application of The Cycle a proven model for arts organisations. Reach out, I’d love to talk with you about how you improve diversity within your board.

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