What We Did
When we first embarked on the journey, we had planned to make the focus ethnic diversity within our artistic programme. This would have ultimately meant that we would have placed a microscope over how we recruit and work with freelance theatre artists. It became clear quite quickly though that there wasn’t enough depth to this challenge, especially given that we were particularly keen to use the process to better understand how we could create lasting change in the company.
We were already working with a broad range of artists and had previously conducted research into emerging writers from BAME backgrounds; and we had used this research to set up an emerging writers’ programme. But, more importantly, we didn’t feel that the question, and attempting to answer it, would have enough far reaching impact on the company as a whole, into the future. We were interested in power and who within Clean Break has a seat at the table when it comes to decision making about the company’s work as well as our core values and activity.
At one of the early Away Days, our Head of Artistic Programme, Róisín McBrinn, was asked by a cohort member what she was doing to ensure that there was someone working with her or within the company to replace her when she moves on. When she brought this challenge back to the senior management team, it helped to move forward considerably our discussions about diversity across the company beyond the artistic programme. This, in turn, facilitated more meaningful debate about diversity within Clean Break, including across our permanent staff team and especially at senior management level.
Our company was set up by two women prisons in 1979 and the contribution that students on our education programme (women with experience of the criminal justice system/women at risk) make to the organisation has always been central to our vision. In fact, the women on our education programme play a part in shaping what is on offer to them but we want to improve on, and deepen this engagement. A diversity of lived experience* amongst our trustees and our entire employed team became much more central to what we felt the company needed to look at altering. We wanted to start to focus on the structures for progression within the company for both staff members, volunteers and students to ensure that when answering the question of ‘who will take over’, we had done everything in our power to answer it with some solid options that would reflect our commitment to change in women’s lives and in the wider theatre industry.
* ie we were interested in particular in experience of the criminal justice system or of being at risk of entering it due to poor mental health, drugs or alcohol dependencies – in line with the criteria for joining Clean Break’s theatre education programme as a student.
We dedicated a board meeting to the broader question of diversity via a ‘long table’ discussion early on in the process and are progressing plans to recruit more trustees with ‘lived experience’ of the criminal justice system. It was, and continues to be, important for us that the board continues to engage actively with this ambition, and holds us accountable for decisions we are making now, and in the future.
We wanted to know more about what might prevent us from attracting or identifying a wide range of women to take on roles in our permanent staff, especially at senior/leadership level. As part of this, Tonic conducted research into progression routes in arts management for – and also barriers commonly experienced by – women, particularly focusing on the experience of BAME, and working class women and those with lived experience. They interviewed women working in arts management/with aspirations to work in arts management who are based in various parts of the UK and who represent a spectrum of roles and career levels, ranging from apprentice level to executive leaders in National Portfolio organisations. This was supplemented by drawing together insights from research studies conducted over the last fifteen years into career progression routes for BAME people and women, both within the arts and beyond in other sectors. This enabled Tonic to bring us some key findings on why some women may be less visible or appear (although not necessarily be) less qualified when arts companies such as ours are sourcing talent, especially for more senior roles.
Tonic also did some really interesting and useful research around how we were recruiting. As well as feedback from a focus group of women theatre professionals from BAME and white working class backgrounds, Tonic also gave us a response to our recruitment pack from a leading theatre professional who has spent many years focusing on recruiting theatre professionals from less conventional backgrounds. This tangible information was massively helpful and, as a result, we have altered the language and approach to our recruitment, learning from best practice in the sector. This is something that we will continue to explore and challenge.
We are in the middle of researching options for Clean Break to create an associate artist scheme for early to midcareer theatre artists. Interviews that Tonic conducted with artists we have worked with on what that could entail will feed into our thinking. We want to ensure that we are creating paid opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds to engage with the company but also to have a chance to engage with the wider theatre sector with our help through mentoring, enhancing skills and experience, and introductions. Simultaneously we are having discussions about how we can make the pathways for Clean Break volunteers and graduate students more embedded in the company.
Like most NPOs* we are in the middle of writing our business plan for the next four year cycle of Arts Council funding. We have changed our approach to how we form our plans by more actively involving the wider staff team and students/former students, and encouraging them to input not just in their specific area of expertise. We are dedicating team away days to these themes and are sharing our Tonic findings and ambitions with all staff members to encourage as much involvement and input as possible.
* National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) are those in receipt of core funding from Arts Council England, for the period April 2015 to March 2018