Board diversity: young people at the heart of decision-making
Contact has avoided having to ask whether its work is diverse enough by putting diversity at the root of decision-making. Matt Fenton and Reece Williams share Contact's story.
Contact has been around since 1969. It has always had a strong focus on young people but in the mid-90s, during a major rebuild and redesign phase, it re-drew its governance structure to put young people at the heart of decision-making, and a commitment to diversity at the heart of its mission and vision.
Since then, young people aged 13-30 have genuinely led at Contact. They work alongside staff in deciding the artistic programme, and in making all staff appointments. They also act as full board members.
The result is an outstanding, diverse and accessible artistic programme for everyone. 70% of our audience are under 35, and 30 - 40% are Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic.
Every major decision at Contact is made jointly by staff and young people. When we are recruiting for staff or board members, all candidates are interviewed by a staff panel and a youth panel. Both panels have equal weight and if they don’t agree then we do a second round of interviews or re-advertise.
We want to represent different communities at Contact and ensure that there are always a range of local voices around the table. We strive to be authentic in that. We avoid having to ask the question about is our work diverse enough by putting diversity at the root of decision-making.
The staff and youth panels usually agree. When they don’t, it tends to be because a candidate has underestimated the youth panel’s influence. If they don’t take the young people seriously, they don’t have a place at Contact.
Young people as board members
We have two defined spaces for young people on the board and we are always thinking about who else could join.
Our young board members need to be over 18 as it’s a legally responsible role, and are supported in this. They can serve a full term on the board, so they might be 19 when they join, but in their mid to late 20s when they step down.
Young board members are recruited locally from our participation programmes so they already have a relationship with Contact and a real understanding of our community.
At most board meetings we have more young people presenting or observing. This gives the opportunity to see what board meetings are like and makes the running of the organisation transparent. Likewise our young programming team, Recon, are part of every programming meeting.
It’s important to us that young people get to know the board at Contact individually and realise that they could be part of it. Often young people emerge who show a particular interest in how the organisation works and how decisions are made, so we encourage them to think about joining a staff appointment panel or the board.
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Board diversity: young people at the heart of decision-making (PDF)