Behind the Scenes: Walk the Plank’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Journey. Blog 1 – Stronger together.
In the first of three blogs sharing Walk the Plank's Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) journey, their General Manager Sarah Heard explains how they embed DEIB practice across everything they do.
About Walk the Plank
Walk the Plank is one of the UK’s leading outdoor arts organisations with a reputation for creating innovative productions and performances which engage artists and communities in a wide range of outdoor settings. Walk the Plank’s track record of making work that engages citizens in public celebration is founded on ambitious creativity that connects with people. From Fire Gardens and site-responsive installations to parades and festivals, the company consistently attracts acclaim and showcases talent.
Finding ways to champion DEIB
Anyone who knows Walk the Plank will know that it is a community. From eating together at lunchtime to pulling out all the stops on an event site, this company has a big heart with its people at the centre. Whilst this is great for familiar faces, it can be daunting for people joining the workforce for the first time. This was one of the challenges identified by the DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging) group which meet regularly to investigate and find ways to champion DEIB within the company. At the end of 2022 a change of personnel within the DEIB group created an opportunity to look at how DEIB is embedded in our organisation in a new way. To get us started on this journey, five members of the DEIB group enrolled onto Arts Marketing Association's Breakthrough cohort of 2023. The members were chosen from all departments; Central Support, Marketing, Production and Producing, and were at different seniority levels within the organisation.
Breakthrough - finding a focus and direction
Breakthrough presented a structured method and a safe space in which to be challenged, learn and grow, alongside peers from other cultural organisations. It helped the group to gain clarity on the unwieldy subject of DEIB, find a focus and a direction. It then broke down this daunting task into manageable steps and at every step of the way we were supported by and accountable to the course leaders. It called us to action to scrutinise all areas of the company, including:
- Monitoring and providing equal opportunities
- Staff inductions and training
- Unbiased and accessible recruitment
- How we represent various communities throughout our work
At the start of the Breakthrough course our concerns were capacity, leadership, buy-in and confidence in our understanding. Our organisation often works within known networks, and we discussed how we add value to our networks by being conscious of our recruitment and commissioning processes.
In the first session we were challenged to visualise our company in one and five years time and to set a “Breakthrough Goal”. Ours was to create the means for DEIB to sit parallel with Sustainability within the organisation. Sustainability has over time become a central pillar to how we approach our work – from strategic, to planning through to delivery and evaluation - and carries a high level of awareness and understanding across our team and our working practices. We wanted DEIB and its values to become embedded at the same level.
Our DEIB focus across 5 main areas
Breakthrough gave the group the agency and motivation to drive our DEIB mission forward. We focused our work over the year on five main areas:
- Research – we benchmarked characteristics from the core team, freelance and board against Salford census data because this is our local community, and we want to be representative of it.
- Internal Processes – we carried out departmental consultations which resulted in the creation of a DEIB Mission Statement and amendments to policy.
- Evaluation Framework – we reassessed how we collect socio-economic, nationality and ethnicity data, and we strove for a higher engagement with the freelance workforce and job applicants to complete diversity surveys.
- Internal Communications – we gave DEIB presence on all meeting agendas helping to achieving cross-company buy-in and increase discussion. The Business Management Team have had coaching sessions, while senior team members and Trustees have begun to attend DEIB meetings.
- Network Engagement and Advocacy – our new website now contains our vision, mission and values and an anti-racism statement. Our values are also added to client proposals. Our MarComms strategy contains DEIB as a pillar, DEIB content is shared in our newsletters and social media.
Rising to the challenge
Getting buy-in from our freelance workforce was challenging because we do not communicate with them in the same way as our core team – traditionally communication has been less frequent. We have implemented a regular workforce newsletter to address this, aiming to keep the freelance team up to date with progress and to share invitations to DEIB meetings and social events.
We understand that embedding DEIB and championing the values isn’t a quick process; that it will take time and be ongoing.
There isn’t a quick fix and there is constantly more to learn and understand, however, every step forward is progress.
It can feel overwhelming at times and the Breakthrough group relied on each other for support. Ongoing communication has been vital to maintain momentum towards our goal and to work through challenging topics and discussions. Looking ahead, as support and understanding throughout the wider team grows, DEIB values will be more effective and sustainable in helping to create a company where our DEIB Mission is clearly understood, and achieves ongoing, effective results:
- We will continue to evolve, striving to create a more equitable organisation for everyone engaged in our work – both professional and non-professional, full time or freelance.
- We aim to have a clear process for progression pathways: from recruitment, training and development to creating work and placement opportunities for emerging creative practitioners, as well as established freelancers, with the ambition to create opportunities within Walk the Plank and/or with other relevant organisations.
- From the inception of projects, we will identify opportunities to diversify and train the future workforce, wherever possible.
- We want new people in the workforce to feel celebrated and embraced for bringing new skills, expertise and experience to the team.
- We want to be representative of the communities in which we make and present our work. We will continue to develop our understanding – and raise awareness of – what this means in practice, and its importance to the company.
Realising successes and celebrating belonging
Participating in Breakthrough certainly gave us a head start on achieving our mission. We haven’t found one key to success; it has been a culmination of lots of little things over time. We have been able to identify existing things we are already doing well and have taken the time to recognise and congratulate ourselves on these things - it can be very easy to feel as though you are doing everything terribly when there is a DEIB mountain to climb ahead of you.
We realised that the ‘Belonging’ element of DEIB is something we have always championed at Walk the Plank and this has brought with it success in the other elements. Our premises, Cobden Works, has a lovely communal space where everyone is welcome to share food and thoughts, and they do. A lunchtime often consists of core office staff, freelance makers and producers, crew and any visitors in the building being welcomed around the table to share food and participate in a lively debate about anything and everything. (If those walls could talk!).
The journey continues
Our next goal is to be able to walk onto a Walk the Plank event site and see a demographic makeup that matches that of the UK / Greater Manchester by 1 September 2025. We have identified work placements and freelance recruitment as routes to keep expanding our network in order to achieve this. We also want to look more deeply at recruitment practice – including things like the makeup of interview panels, how questions are presented to interviewees, and to develop robust placement programmes that meet both the needs of the company and of our emerging workforce through partnerships and outreach.
We hope this insight into our experience helps anyone who is wanting to champion DEIB within their organisation. It really does have transformative powers. In a world in turmoil, let’s champion the values of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging and move forward stronger together.