Good governance: the importance of achieving an inclusive approach to board recruitment within the arts, heritage and culture sectors.

In 2022, the Arts Council released their data report on equity, diversity and inclusion. Key issues covered in this report pointed to a homogenous sector, whose audiences viewed the sector as elitist. Their report cited that a lack of diversity across the sector has resulted in arts, heritage and culture organisations becoming fragile, inflexible and unable to retain talent that was best equipped to tackle emerging challenges and to seize opportunities.

Since its publication in 2020, leaders across the arts, heritage and culture sectors have responded, stepping up their commitment to becoming diverse to their core and more inclusive in their approach to recruitment and opportunities for growth. Organisations have risen to the challenge, becoming agile and responsive to attracting participants, audiences, visitors and stakeholders from wider backgrounds across wider spaces.

It’s great that so much progress has been made, but it is clear that now more than ever a diverse arts board with equitable, inclusive processes is the lynchpin around which an arts organisation evolves, adapts, and ultimately thrives. Boards must reflect the diversity of the audience that the organisation is striving to serve. To achieve this, the first steps begin with open and inclusive arts recruitment processes.

Before the recruitment process.

Are your governing documents up to date?

Before any board recruitment process begins, it is important to look at the governing documents. Are they reflective of the current practices and understandings of equity, diversity, and inclusion within your organisation? You must also consider if they:

  • Mirror you as an organisation and align with your vision, values and mission.
  • Accurately outline the time commitment and detail any flexibilities within this.
  • Openly discuss how expenses are dealt with which are incurred by your trustees.

It is vital that you evaluate these documents annually and with a critical eye, ensuring that if they are too restrictive or not transparent enough, you update them before you go live to search for your next arts, heritage or culture Trustee.

Are your board meetings accessible?

Consider the time, location and materials that people are expected to adhere to for your board meetings.

  • What time of day are your meetings held?
  • Does the location cater for accessibility needs?
  • Can meetings be held online?
  • Can papers and materials be presented in a different way for neurodivergent board members?

By being up front about these aspects and having them set out in your governing documents, you will encourage a positive conversation about the values of your organisation —  demonstrating flexibility and opening up your field of applicants before you even start to look.

What is your policy for expenses?

In our experience, applicants are less likely to want to apply for a trusteeship if the policy on reclaiming expenses is unclear. The cost of living has meant that people carefully monitor the cost of non-essential activities, and this is reflected in many of the conversations which we are having with aspiring trustees. 

What is the realistic time commitment?

Time is the most important commodity in most people’s lives — they are busy and have conflicting priorities. Before proceeding with any process, think about:

  • Do you have a realistic view on the time commitment of trustees?
  • Does the time commitment need to be the same for everyone?
  • Can you consider different roles for promising candidates who can’t meet the time commitment?
  • Could you consider a role sharing opportunity, such as co-chairing?

Flexibility on time commitment can positively affect succession planning, ensuring your organisation can weather change with as little ruction as possible.

‘Focusing on an inclusive process, one that is open to first time trustees, will widen your pool of prospective candidates dramatically, opening up skill sets and new generations of candidates with fresh breadths of experience.’

The recruitment process.

Ten years ago, one of the most important considerations in trustee recruitment was previous governance experience. The trouble is that this becomes a self-perpetuating cycle – an inner sanctum into which aspiring arts trustees cannot access.

At Peridot Partners, we see time and again in arts recruitment, heritage recruitment and culture recruitment, that governance skills can be taught, simply by providing some external training and/or in-house support. Focusing on an inclusive process, one that is open to first time trustees, will widen your pool of prospective candidates dramatically, opening up skill sets and new generations of candidates with fresh breadths of experience. In a recent process, we supported a heritage museum on a search for two trustees. Instead of asking for governance experience, our search focused on the personality traits, behaviours and skills that one would need for the museum and on heritage-minded candidates who best aligned with their mission, vision and values. We use this approach frequently and encourage you to consider it too.

To attract the right trustees, consider:

1. Language

Language has a huge part to play in attracting your next trustees. Within arts recruitment and heritage recruitment, the power of positive and supportive language is important. At Peridot Partners, we spend considerable time working on language that champions organisations, speaks passionately about why they can’t resist becoming involved and encourages applicants with the right experience to put their name forward.

Simple, clear language is also vital when talking about your particular arts role or heritage job. As well as providing an inclusive framework for recruitment, if you are looking for expertise from further afield than just your sector, then jargon and high-level language will alienate people from broader and potentially interesting backgrounds.

Many role descriptions ask for trustees with “governance experience”. This can be off-putting even for people who have this experience. It’s subjective – how much experience is enough? While you may require intermediate knowledge, they may interpret this as your need for an expert in the field of governance.

This language can also portray that you are not prepared to invest in new trustees and may affect your desired image of being an inclusive organisation. Ensuring a united understanding of who you are looking for before you start your search, and that this is reflected in your language, is imperative to an inclusive recruitment process.

2. An open and brave culture

As part of the process in the arts and culture sector, boards are increasingly opening their doors to prospective candidates so that they can participate in a “sample” board meeting. Such initiatives enable prospective candidates to get a sense of how your board operates, demonstrates that there is no ”groupthink” in your organisation and dispels some of that embedded mysticism which can surround board meetings.

Boards that we work with are also encouraging potential trustees to visit your organisations in order get to know your culture better. This is a great opportunity to see your organisation from the inside, to meet its staff and show that volunteers, stakeholders and staff are equally engaged with your organisation and empowered to speak.

Working recently to find a new Chair for an opera company, candidates had the opportunity to view productions, meet with members of the board both informally and formally and to meet the staff involved. Any organisation who is serious about diversity needs to think about the place of authority, voice and empowerment and ensuring that everyone across the breath of the organisation can be heard. There is no more powerful way to demonstrate this than illustrating it to your potential trustees or chair.

‘Searching for a diverse pool of candidates to propel your organisation to the next level from within a sector they understand, who will present positive challenge, who will offer a divergence of views and who are truly able to represent your organisation at board level, is painstaking, specialist and time-consuming work. But it’s so worth it.’

3. Time is your most valuable asset

We know that in arts, heritage and culture organisations, CEOs, executives and boards are often stretched to capacity in fulfilling their day-to-day roles. Ahead of any recruitment process, it’s important to remember that time is your most valuable asset. During our search for a Chair for a theatre company, around 80 hours was spent on the search process alone.

A thorough search means mapping organisations and individuals, speaking with contacts for referrals, going out to talk with relevant communities, engaging people from allied organisations, reaching diverse groups, assessing skills, undertaking due diligence and then, of course, speaking with candidates themselves. Phew! That 80 hours of search resulted in around 400 individuals to communicate with – and that’s before anyone has even applied. This is a picture which is entirely typical of our processes.

4. Running a process in house

At Peridot, we often have conversations with organisations who have conducted the process in house previously, only to find they have little time to spend the hours required to speak to potential candidates. From busy CEOs snatching time to speak with candidates for a moment in between meetings, to a trustee who, 6 weeks in, is finding it hard to give the energy required to communicate to a potential trustee about the organisation with passion and enthusiasm — this is where a specialist arts, heritage and culture recruitment partner come into their own.

Searching for a diverse pool of candidates to propel your organisation to the next level from within a sector they understand, who will present positive challenge, who will offer a divergence of views and who are truly able to represent your organisation at board level, is painstaking, specialist and time-consuming work. But it’s so worth it.

Ahead your next recruitment round, make sure that your board know who is going to be in charge of recruitment and how many hours can be dedicated to it if undertaking the job ‘in house’. Determining whether you have these crucial man-hours to dedicate to finding your perfect candidates and to the future strength and diversity of your organisation is key.

Similarly, a search partner who takes the time to get to know an organisation and culture and how it operates will ensure an inclusive robust and successful process.

5. Specialist recruitment partners

If you are thinking of using a recruitment partner, ensure that you look for difference — that will ensure your organisation and role will not only stand out but be consistently understood by potential applicants.

94.29% of our clients rate the inclusivity and diversity of the process as good or excellent

At Peridot Partners, we are values-led in everything we do and mindful of our duty in representing our clients’ organisations — and representing diversity is at the heart of our work. In our 2021-2022 social impact report, we found that in almost half our placements we had strong female representation and some diversity in the people that we were placing. Our other findings from the post-placement survey included recording:

  • 20 different ethnic groups
  • 49.50% identified as having a faith
  • 7.35% identified themselves as having a disability
  • 11.25% LQBTQ+
  • 57.84% female
  • 41.67% male
  • 0.49% other

In addition to this, our arts, heritage and culture recruitment team truly understand these sectors inside out, as each member of the team has a creative specialism and lived experience in the arts, heritage and culture world. This means we are able to communicate with real understanding, energy and passion about your organisation — we are true specialists.

 

To transform into a truly inclusive sector with diversity at its core, your boards need to reflect the audiences you cater to and the wider community you operate in. Stakeholders for your organisation must each nurture and cultivate an inclusive climate full of divergent thinkers who have a space not only in which to speak, but also to be heard.

It is incumbent upon us all to ensure that for our arts, heritage and culture sectors to thrive rather than simply survive — there a diversity of voices heard around every table.


If you are planning your next recruitment process for your arts, heritage or culture organisation, get in touch with Rebekah Abbott for an informal conversation. You can send Rebekah an email or why not connect with her on Linkedin.

We will be hosting an online panel-led discussion with a Q and A on 8th November to delve further into the world of equity, diversity and inclusion in the arts, heritage and culture world at board level. Please let us know if you would like to be the first to hear about this.