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Diversity and the Cultural Leadership Programme

photo of Hilary Carty

Hilary Carty was the Director of the Cultural Leadership Programme (CLP), a £22m government investment in excellence in leadership within the cultural and creative industries.

Hilary recently spoke about the importance of diversity to CLP at the Sync Thinking event held on the 9th March, 2011 at the Wellcome Collection in London.

The following is an edited transcript of her presentation on the day.

Prioritising diversity

a cartoon man picks up one piece of the jigsaw from a pile of pieces - it is blue and rest are white

The Cultural Leadership Programme has tried to create an environment, a new ecology, which is about collaboration and active support. One which is absolutely about mutuality and about looking people, one to one, in the eye and gaining the best of them and getting the best of yourself and seeing what can happen. The Culture Leadership Programme has prioritised diversity. There isn't really an organisation in the public sector that will tell you that it's not prioritising diversity, to be honest. So, for us it's not as much about whether or not you prioritise diversity, but how. How are you going to do it? How are you going to deliver? How are you going to make it different to what has gone before?

For us it's essential to, we call it, ‘live out’ the practice, be living out the aspiration. So if you look at the CLP board, I wanted diversity to be evident, right there; the team, evident right there, all of our speakers at different events; evident right there. It's quite simple, I think, about seeing and reflecting what you want to happen. If you make that happen, if you make that visible, then it actually goes, I think, further and deeper than the thousand policies and a thousand words and platitudes. Just do it; it actually makes the difference.

Watching the window

a window, with one side slightly open. Through the window is a blue sky.

When we started CLP, we were looking at what that difference might look like. For those of you like me who have been working in the cultural sector for a number of years, one of the things we tend to notice is that we ebb and flow. At one moment we go, ‘right what we want is everybody doing diversity, this has got to be mainstream, we have all got to take responsibility’. We strip out our diversity officers and our specialist people with expertise, and we say we all have to take ownership of this and we push it out. Then, after a few years, we go 'Oh that's not quite working, what we need are some specialists with specific expertise who can drive us forward'; we won't give up our mainstreaming but we will have some people who are guardians there, right there at the front; we will look to them and they will take us forward. What we have done is one then the other, then one and the other. Often, they supplant each other and almost wipe each other out. You never know if you are in the ebb or flow.

For me, it’s like watching a window opening and closing. Just now and then it opens - sometimes it's a little crack, sometimes it's quite a big one. What I do when I see a window opening, is to jump through it myself, put my hand behind me and grab as many people as possible and yank them through with me. For me this is so important to do - pull through as many as possible alongside myself.

Both / and

a children's drawing with lots of pathways on it all in different coloured pencil.

When we were looking at diversity at CLP, we thought ‘can we do it a different way?’ Is there a way that we don't do the one and then the other? Is there a way in which we can actually harness the best of both approaches? Do we have to only mainstream or only focus on diversity? We decided that we were going to do both, ‘both / and’ is one of my favourite sayings. CLP typifies the ‘both / and’ approach.

The ‘both / and’ approach means that you don't just look at a number of disabled, BME or women in mainstream institutions and go ‘job done’. You go ‘great, fantastic, let's keep that happening, let's support mainstream organisations to keep opening those windows and keep pulling people through’. Let's not for one second think that that is the solution.

You have to do both things, in my opinion. So we have had discrete focused programmes that prioritised women, BME and disabled leaders. I think there is value in what we have called 'safe spaces', where people can cluster together and just check in. In that check in space, you go, ‘is it just me or is there something going on here? This is what I've encountered, this is what it feels like to me, how is it for you?’ Because it's a safe space you can be genuinely open and unburden sometimes and you get the responses back. What you are wanting to do with those responses is to get the energy and enthusiasm to go back out there, recharged, and continue to deliver. So, in my opinion, those same spaces are absolutely critical. What we try to do at CLP is to create the safe spaces, to allow that nurturing to happen, let people get their energy, get their resources and head back out there. At the same time we support the mainstream routes.

Making a difference

photo of a sign saying make a difference

That parallel track has served us really well. We have seen a number of leaders come through who, I have to say it's not blowing my trumpet, as I said there is a big team of us, we have seen so many leaders come through who we just really didn't see before. They are coming through with greater confidence, with greater networks and with the experiences that they have not being quite so bruising. Rather than sitting back and saying ah ah ah, they have had a chance to share some of that and get some response, that's really critical. If we are then going to talk about changing and make the workforce more diverse, it's through that combined approach that we will do it. We strengthen everybody to get them to this playing field that we want to be level. I don't want to be someone's equal opportunity's policy, I'm quite hard working, got a couple of skills, I want to use them, I'm sure that's the same for everyone. In order to get to that playing field there are times when you might need to hop on a bus with some specific facilities, that's what we try to do.

Statistics are important. We had a breakfast session this morning which looked at the economics of some of the CLP activities. One of the statistics that they came out with is that 30% of the CLP’s leaders have been from culturally diverse backgrounds or are disabled - 30% of those people who have walked through our programmes fulfil those criteria. I go 'Hoorah', that means people are seeing themselves reflected, taking energy from looking around and saying, "Yeah, I do fit in." And they are marching forward. We have actually built up a head of steam. What I would love for you to do now is to put your hands behind your back and grab two other people and pull them forward.

I would like to be optimistic and say the window or the door is open and staying open, but who knows? I am going to go on a quick diet, get smaller and then I can go sideways, and fit through an even smaller gap - I am going to get through. It doesn't really matter whether the door is this wide or this wide, we're going on in - grab and pull through.

Sync is one of those programmes that I absolutely adore. Thank you so much to Sarah, to Jo and also to Diane, for crafting something which is absolutely special. It’s absolutely a model of how you can work well in the leadership arena, and work inclusively and actually open doors to let people come in, supporting them as they move through. It's not about holding on to people, it's actually about reaching out, pulling in and supporting them as they go forward.

Moving forwards

photo of an arrow on the road showing the way forwards

I really think that the approach that Sync has developed fits with the whole ethos of the Cultural Leadership Programme. I couldn’t be more delighted to see that's it one of the programmes that is going forward when CLP closes at end of March. It’s a testament to the work you have done. At this stage we don't know any specific details, I can't say how much or what etc. etc., but we can work that out. But actually the message has got through. Here's a quality approach to really developing diversity that is worth holding on to.

I'd just like to say thank you also to you [the other speakers], because you are beacons. You are the people that others are looking at, giving them the courage to keep going forward. Something like Sync which has come from the disabled community, that has been shaped in the image that you want it to be, is, I think, a huge part of its success. It's a very enabling programme, because it says that it's one of the programmes that's done by the people, for the people - real basic democratic principles. I applaud it very, very much. Thank you.