Public appointments aren’t always a picnic but we do need more diversity

men eating pies

Kenneth Roy’s article Unelected Scotland in the Scottish Review challenges the OPCAS Commissioner Karen Carlton on the  Commission’s ambitions for more diversity in the public appointment system.  He comments on the profile and backgrounds of the current board members and trustees of three of Scotland’s arts bodies, the National Galleries of Scotland, National Museums of Scotland and the Joint Board of Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen  and finds them woefully undiverse.

If you would like to contribute to Scottish life through a public appointment in the arts, I offer the following elementary advice: be white; be male; be middle-class; be fairly old; be in finance; and be from Edinburgh.

As the ‘third woman’ on the National Galleries Board, living in a  low powered part of Fife and scarcely connected to the financial sector in Edinburgh to which Roy refers, I would like to dispel  a few myths about being a trustee of a national cultural body and offer some suggestions about how to achieve that diversity.

Myth 1: its a piece of cake

The roles can be quite demanding both in time and in the work. The trustees and board members with whom I work give considerably and proactively. And that is not just the Chairmen past and present (yes they are all men) who Culture Minister Mike Russell cites in his response and who are publicly recognised.   The other, less recognised trustees, all contribute according to their skills and expertise.  On the NGS board, we are particularly dependent on trustees with financial experience and private networks without whom we would neither have achieved the Playfair Project nor planned the Portrait of the Nation Project.

Myth 2: there is recompense

No but there is reward! During the first three years of the National Theatre of Scotland, where I was a founder director and first chair of  the Finance Committee, I was giving up to 2 days a month, and 1 day a month to NGS on various projects.  I say ‘giving’ because these posts are not remunerated as a matter of course, although the current and previous Chairs of the Scottish Arts Council have been largely because they were not men of independent means and were losing earnings through the job.

The reward is in making the unseen, unsung contribution to Scotland’s cultural success.

Myth 3: its the tap on the shoulder

All the public appointments are publicly advertised.

So why are these boards not diverse? Partly its a generation thing.  Most of the chairs not only of NGS, NMS and SAC, but also other cultural bodies, the national performing companies and most venues, are men, and retired from previous careers. There are comparatively few women over 65 who have had the opportunity to gain commensurate experience and profile.  There is a way to go before we reach the tipping point, when women of the next generation take the lead.

I offer the following advice to anyone thinking of applying when the next vacancies occur: Consider the 4 ‘W’s:

Wisdom:  boards need specific skills and expertise to balance those they already have; but they need more than skills, they need the wisdom that comes with experience

Wit: these posts can be highly competitive and good applications matter

Willingness: board members have to be able and willing to undertake a considerable amount of work, attending events, reading papers, attending meetings AND usually undertaking specific project AND acting proactively as an ambassador without any conflict of interest; and satisfaction that the reward of contribution is enough

Wherewithall: board members have to be able to make time which is unpaid and to travel.  Although most board members are retired or are of independent means there are some of us who have made the time by juggling other work  and family commitments.

The Wherewithall requirements for art and cultural boards are greater than that for some other public appointments in the NHS for example.  This is either a simple reflection of a view that either the arts are less important, or that people involved in the arts should not expect financial reward. But the lack of remuneration creates a two tier system and prevents creative practitioners – many of whom are sole traders – from applying.

We need to create a climate where people with diverse backgrounds, skills and experience, including artists, come on to boards when they have what it takes.  To support that, and build confidence, it would help to find a way of giving interested people some experience of what the role demands so that they have reasonable expectations.

OPCAS states

The boards of our public bodies do not reflect the diversity of the population of Scotland.  In addition, during the past three years the average number of applicants for each post has fallen by 30%. If public appointees continue to be drawn from the usual quarters the pool will go on decreasing and be ever less reflective of the population. Conversely, if appointment opportunities are made accessible to all, we can be confident that our future boards will have the very best talent that Scotland has to offer.

The Commission is implementing its Diversity Plan, aimed to attract more diverse appointments.  But the particular challenges of Wherewithall  and the lack of renumeration for public appointments in the cultural sector create additional barriers to attracting the right people.

  1. I very much agree. There is some way to go before we reach the tipping point of more women, artists and other under-represented groups being able to contribute as board members or trustees in the current format. the barriers being, time, social circumstances, and lack of renumeration. I think your advice of giving potential board members/ trustees a taster, support to find out more about the roles involved would be a great start to breaking down the barriers and assist the OPCAS Commission’s ambition to attract more diverse appointments. I do love the visual!

  2. its the only visual on Flickr creative commons that doesnt include a woman, naked or otherwise, when you type in ‘men’ and ‘picnic’!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: