2018 turned out to be quite a year for women. Not only are we celebrating the centenary of the suffragette movement and the Representation of the People Act 1918, granting the vote to some women (full electoral equality was still another decade away); but the #MeToo movement tackling sexual harassment grew into a global phenomenon, MPs are set to vote on misogyny becoming a hate crime, UK media organisations are legally required to reveal their gender pay gaps and the government supported Hampton-Alexander Review set the target for female board members on FTSE 350 companies at 33% by 2020.
While diversity and equality are among the number one targets for most organisations across the UK, it seems like those values don’t infiltrate all levels of the work force, with the ‘big table’, the board of governors, often still a bastion of male dominance. Most boards now have at least one woman – which sometimes feels like a token appointment – but equality and diversity representative of the community these organisations serve still feels like a distant utopia.
Interestingly, numbers within arts organisations paint a decidedly different picture.
The arts are a sector that generally attracts many women. Arts Council England reports that girls are more likely than boys to engage in almost all arts activities, both inside and outside school, a pattern that becomes stronger as they get older and is reflected in the workforce. While numbers are still decreasing when you look at leadership positions higher up the career ladder, arts organisations are leading the way in terms of diversity and equality.
47% of arts trustees are women, compared with 36% of charity trustees, 14% of arts trustees are BME, compared with 8% across all charities. At the Place, our board is currently 54% female and 46% male, reflecting our diverse workforce at every level. The latest two appointments to our board of governors are two inspiring and creative women – Rosalind Wynn, Executive Producer of Gecko and Dr Tzo Zen Ang, Chief Operating Officer of the Royal Academy of Arts - who are reframing what leadership looks like in 2018.
Challenge and Nurture – key leadership skills
“For me leadership is about the ability to inspire trust and followership”, states Tzo Zen Ang while Rosalind Wynn reflects on her upbringing that already questioned or upturned traditional forms of leadership: “My mother, a doctor, was the worker in the family and had a different professional surname from our family name. All this was quite unusual at the time. She has always been strong and resilient, clever and compassionate. She’s been an immense influence and inspiration to me and I, the only girl of three siblings, have taken on a spirit of determination and self-confidence. I have always felt challenged and nurtured by both of my parents and for me, this combination is key to good leadership.”
The excuses that all-male boards have come up with in their reluctance to appoint more women have been widely documented are range from infuriating – “One woman is already good enough” – to almost comedic –"Most women don't want the hassle or pressure of sitting on a board". When asked about her personal motivation to take on the role Rosalind Wynn states: “Neither of these words factored in my interest in becoming a board member” while Tzo Zen Ang believes: “Most people - male or female - are fundamentally motivated by purpose and impact, and sitting on a charity board is a way to have very deep impact towards a greater purpose. As with any senior role that’s usually challenging. Hassle and pressure come with the territory and are, in general, worth it– frankly, if it’s not hard, it’s not interesting.”
The arts can play a leading role for change in society
What is it that women, especially creative women, can bring to the table? “To me, there isn’t one correct voice or way of doing things. Difference, and constructive disagreement are positive”, says Rosalind. “Working in subsidised theatre, I am often faced with the word ‘risk’ – financial, artistic, and reputational. New forms of making theatre are termed risky and need to be balanced against ‘safer’ work. But change is vital to enticing new and young audiences, and inspiring the artists of the future. In my opinion, the risk is to stay the same.” “It’s not about us being women”, says Tzo Zen, “but more about the group being diverse, to avoid ‘group thinking’, to challenge norms and find new ways of working.”
The arts are well placed to take a lead role on change within wider society. “Having female leadership at the top of arts organisations of national importance provides highly visible role models for wider society”, says Tzo Zen, while Rosalind reflects: “I’ve always been strong-willed and wanting to move forwards rather than stay still. I find that the most daunting thing is the anticipation; once you take the first step or speak the first word, you’re already on your way to a new adventure!”