Creating a diverse board

Creating a diverse board

By Cath Hume


Becoming a truly inclusive organisation starts at the top with your board and leadership, says the CEO of the Arts Marketing Association, Cath Hume. 

The Arts Marketing Association (AMA) is committed to becoming an inclusive organisation – to us, that means realising our vision of inclusivity throughout the whole of the AMA. Diversity is an important element of an inclusive organisation, and while we have developed a successful range of programmes that support this work, we believe diversity must start in our own backyard. We need to change our team, our programme, our suppliers and our Board to have a ripple effect throughout our membership and their organisations and their audiences.

We have always had a strong, effective Board but when I became CEO it was not a diverse Board. Our Board members were impressive and successful, but they were all very similar in age, ethnicity and perspective. To achieve the AMA’s vision, we needed a diverse Board to enrich the range of skills and views shaping our future, and ensure we are resilient and able to meet the needs of our members and the wider sector. While there is a great deal more to do, we have made real progress. We now have a Board that is more diverse in its perspectives, skills and personal characteristics.

Finding a mentor

Prior to my appointment, the Board had co-opted consultant Mel Larsen for her expertise in marketing, organisational development, audience development, coaching, and her experience working in and around this question of achieving true diversity.

For the past three years Mel has been an incredible champion, challenging our ideas and practice and supporting me in effecting change. For anyone looking to change their Board and their organisation I would say find someone like Mel – you can’t do it alone.

It is also important to find and listen to an independent voice. Some of the conversations necessary as part of this process can be difficult – if they don’t take you out of your comfort zone, you’re probably not having the right discussions. We held workshops with both our Board and our team to unpick what we mean by diversity, and what our vision is. This was challenging so I brought in an independent voice: top Executive Coach Ishreen Bradley. Ishreen was able to question the Board in a deeper, more meaningful way and this helped us unlock what we wanted to achieve.

Clarifying our vision

One of the first things we needed to work out is what diversity means to us across every part of the AMA. We were already in the process of writing our 360 degree Diversity Strategy, so we were able to crystallise our thoughts in that document.

You can’t consider diversity and inclusivity in isolation. Diversity is not just making sure all types of protected characteristics are represented – true diversity takes socio-economic background, diverse thinking and voices into account as well. We want true diversity reflected across our membership, content, speakers and representatives, and we know that we have to reach beyond our current networks to do that. We aim to influence the wider sector by showing how this can be done, by sharing our journey, talking about the issues we have overcome, and by being ambitious about what we aim to achieve. We want this to be measurable and recognise that it is an ongoing process.

It matters that diversity is out in the open. We want to signal to our members, the sector, those beyond it that we are an inclusive organisation. It’s especially important that people can see this in our Board.

Thinking about the recruitment process

We recruit the majority of our Board from our membership – all our members are invited to stand. Looking at our membership, I was certain we would find fantastic candidates who could also bring more diverse perspectives to our Board. I actively sought people I knew would both govern our organisation effectively and help us to diversify our Board. In a recent article for Arts Professional, Michelle Wright, CEO of Cause4 and Programme Director of Arts Fundraising and Philanthropy, also stresses the need for effective induction processes for new Board members, ongoing support and training. We supported our new Board members and made sure they understood the journey we are on, and what we want to achieve.

There have been difficult conversations along the way. Talking about inclusivity and access can be challenging, emotional, personal and delicate. It has helped me enormously to have a team that I can talk with honestly and who will challenge my thinking.

In the process of this work I’ve read as much as I can and listened as much as possible and I’ve learned a huge amount – I’m still learning.

Extending our impact

Our experiences with this work have led Mel, Ishreen and I to develop a new course – Breakthrough. Funded by Arts Council England, Breakthrough takes CEOs and their Senior Management Teams through a process to help them become more diverse organisations. This takes a whole organisation approach – the audiences of those organisations are one element, but it is important to take a panoramic look across the organisation’s internal and external workings if the change it is to be embedded, meaningful and future-proof. We are in our pilot year, learning a lot, and already seeing an impact from the work we are doing. If you would be interested in taking part in round two next year, please let us know.

I have become particularly interested in how the systems and structures within our sector make it inaccessible and perpetuate a relatively mono-cultural  perspective. The award-winning journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge addresses this in her bestselling book, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’ and we will be talking about it at our Inclusivity and Audiences Day, Smashing Systems and Building Blocks, on 7 November at Birmingham Hippodrome. As part of this we are building a virtual bookshelf, #AMABookclub, of recommendations from our members and beyond.

You can find a wide range of resources on developing diverse leadership, governance and recruitment practices on this platform some of which are highlighted in the right hand column of this page.

Cath Hume head and shouldersCath Hume

Cath Hume, CEO, Arts Marketing Association

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Resource type: Articles | Published: 2022