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It’s easy enough to change your publicity and marketing; it’s hard to broaden the governance of an organisation. Governance can be very slow to change and if you are pushing up from the bottom it can take a long time. It has to be done slow and gradual. Simon Taylor, The Making

Why is governance in a section called The Basics next to legislation, statistics and models? Because it all starts from here.

If your board (or advisory group, or the people where the buck stops) don't 'get it', then your organisation will continually be playing catch up.

Get your board on board.

Who is in charge?

Disabled people, and other people from minority groups, are often not represented at decision-making level within organisations. They frequently have little opportunity to influence or manage activity, even when it is directly related to their issues. Equally, many disabled people have little or no experience of disability politics or knowledge/experience of disability arts, disability legislation, the disability movement and so on - why should they?

On a board you need two things:

  • knowledge and experience
  • representation

You might not find them in the same person.

Learning from the UN

The UN identified five qualities which contribute to the successful management of diversity within organisations:

  1. leadership - senior management involvement
  2. valid and reliable performance measures
  3. education and training
  4. history of cultural and management change
  5. planned cycles - follow up and feed in

It is no surprise that leadership is number one. Without senior management guidance and commitment, organisations cannot truly demonstrate inclusion throughout.

See? Told you you needed to get your board on board!

Getting started - or how to diversify your board

Your constitution, rules or articles may define the composition of your board, steering or advisory group. These may prescribe a certain number of members; geographical locations; the gender balance; disability balance and/or other characteristics to be represented. For some organisations, the governing body has to be drawn from representatives from member organisations; in others, people can be co-opted if numbers are low or specific interests are not represented.

A good starting point is to review the constitution, rules or articles, to ensure that they are inclusive. If members of the governing body are not pre-selected, how are they recruited? In many cases, potential board or committee members are recommended by word of mouth, with existing members suggesting potential new members. This can become discriminatory (although not intentionally) and may limit the diversity of those suggested.

To be inclusive, the membership of the board or committee needs to be diverse. It does not have to be disabled people who advise or monitor disability access. However, a wide range of people with different experiences, is going to be better at ensuring that a variety of issues remain on the agenda. A diverse board membership may also bring new perspectives to stale debates.

Simply appointing a disabled person, for example, to the board is not enough. Some disabled people may not have experience or interest in the areas where you need advice and support; equally there are non-disabled people who may have awareness of disability issues.

The easiest way to assess gaps in the composition and knowledge of boards and committees is through undertaking a skills audit. During such an audit, it may be useful to ask all members if they have personal experience of disability, or if they have specific knowledge of particular areas of disability and arts practice. Some people may have hidden talents. Some people are very reluctant to describe themselves as disabled, as they see it as a negative label. Undertaking high quality disability equality training as a group may make people feel more comfortable about such disclosures. If the audit reveals a skills gap in any main area, then recruit to fill this gap. You could link up with Arts and Business and their Board Bank Arts programme to help here.

To go to straight to Arts & Business and their board services

Good practice in governance

Given that any existing board may include people with hidden impairments (who haven't told you they are disabled people) and that it should be constantly looking to increase its diversity, it is good practice to put accessible processes in place now - don't wait until you have a disabled board member.

These could include ensuring that: all new members are routinely asked if they have any access requirements. Actually, whilst we are there - all existing members should be regularly asked what their access requirements are, as people’s access requirements can change over time.

It should also mean that meetings are held in accessible venues, budgets are available to produce materials in appropriate formats and to provide access support services, when required too.

There are specific requirements for trustees of registered charities with legal responsibilities. In the past, this has been used to exclude people with learning disabilities and mental health-related access needs from serving on boards. However, many disability arts organisations now have boards comprising only of people with learning disabilities and/or people with mental health needs, so there are ways of working within these guidelines that don't discriminate.

In some cases, disabled artists and artsworkers will not want to be on boards of arts organisations, as this can limit their opportunities to work for these organisations. For registered charities, charity law used to insist that trustees cannot be paid for their work as trustees. Changes to charity law (2006) makes payments to Trustees for professional services to charity possible (if constitution allows it).

If an arts organisation is working extensively in a specific field, it is recommended that a proportion of their management group is drawn directly from that field. For an organisation working with a range of groups as part of a mixed programme of work, it is suggested that the number of individuals from such groups within the membership of the governing body is in proportion to the amount of work undertaken.

Check that there is adequate two-way communication between the advisory group and the board/senior management team, and ensure that they are not sidelined, only to be consulted on what are perceived to be ‘their’ issues. Inclusion should be a part of everything – and a good advisory group can be a valuable resource when used holistically across the organisation!

This may mean consulting:

  • relevant local groups,
  • organisations and individuals relevant UK/international (if appropriate) groups, organisations and individuals from cross over groups, organisations and individuals (such as culturally diverse disability groups),
  • those people who are current or potential users of the project or organisation.

It is important to remember that an advisory group, however good, does not replace the need to get professional consultants/advisors/trainers involved in projects, as they have specific information that a layperson may not have.

For general info on governance, including equalities and diversity info, go to GOLD.

To go to GOLD - a CLP project on Governance, Organisational and Leadership Development)..