Diversity report and policy Oct 2016

Written by  on October 25, 2016 

Diversity report and policy 2016

I’m a sole trader. A freelance light artist. Why does one artist need a diversity policy? I didn’t think I did until I read this article by Emilie Collyer.


Emilie argues that organisation need to take action to get more women in creative roles by implementing gender quotas. I agree.
I am not an organisation however. I am an independent artist. A lighting designer.

Further in the article Emilie writes about poet Maxine Beneba Clarke who won’t take a position on a panel that doesn’t meet a minimum diversity standard. Emilie continues
“not all artistic engagements allow for this level of negotiation: if you’re a male lighting designer with a family to support, you will be unlikely to knock back a job offer from a major theatre company. “.

When I read this I initially thought ‘that’s me, and that’s true’.
But looking back I wondered if it was really true. Maybe I could give it a go and see what happens? If I insisted on a diversity quota what would happen? What would have happened had I done that for the last 12 months? Could I have created an improvement in diversity? Can I create some kind of improvement in diversity on the projects I work on in the next 12 months? I should do an experiment and find out.

Some points to clarify
– I am a male lighting designer
– The other half of my practice is a sort of creative programmer/builder. I create interactive installations and this involves building the hardware and developing the software to go with it, which is pretty specialised tasks. How specialised? As far as I know I’m one of only a handful of people in Australia who use my particular programming toolkit vvvv. One of approximately 10 according to the vvvv usermap. (Although vvvv isn’t the only way to crack an egg if that’s the path a project is going down it can’t really be half half) (Note to self: do something about this, run some workshops or something)
– I don’t have a family at the moment, so whilst I don’t love being out of work it’s not quite as dire as if I had a kid (I did have a dependent child in my life at one stage so I know what that pressure is like)
– At age 30 arguably my first major theatre company job came this year. My arts work is still largely with my own independent projects, other independent artists, small companies and regional companies. I don’t have a lot of major theatre company work to turn down at this point, nor am I asked to be on panels or boards. But I do have corporate clients and clients that are big organisations, even if their arts projects are quite small.
– Emilie has written the article specifically about making room for women. The action Maxine Beneba Clarke is taking is specifically to create opportunities for women of colour.  My diversity policy might need a broader focus to work at my scale.

What is diverse? (And who am I to judge?)

So in thinking about when a team is and isn’t diverse I have a problem. I don’t feel qualified to judge if a project is diverse enough. This is because I don’t feel qualified to judge if an individual is diverse. An employer or organisation might have more scope in asking people the kind of questions about their identity needed to confirm this. But as a professional collaborator or peer there’s plenty of personal identity stuff that’s not my business.

This could also become an easy reason to hide from taking any responsibility but it’s still also true…
Thinking about some projects I’ve worked on in the last 12 months I didn’t know some people had a diverse gender identity, queer identity or cultural identity until it was mentioned in passing later. I wouldn’t have thought those projects had a diverse team until then.
Thinking back there are some other difficult scenarios, for example a team that’s more than 50% white queer men, but those guys are regular theatre types who are working all the time. Is this a team that should push for more diversity? I know some women who might think so. I know some gay men who might disagree. Either way who am I to judge?
It’s also going to be a difficult conversation to have with other independent artists. A company has the ability to look at diversity over their whole season. An indy artist has one show they finally got some funding for, they may find it harder to accommodate a diversity policy.

So I think some common sense guidelines here are
– These difficult scenarios are in the minority, for many projects it’s still reasonably easy to see if there was or wasn’t a diverse team.
– Put it on the company, I don’t need to know personally everyones details. I can say to the company ‘is this team diverse?’. Although with some small companies and independent artists I am probably putting them in a difficult position, but bigger companies with HR departments should be able to handle this.
– If a project is strongly diverse in one way I’m not gonna push for it to be diverse in other ways, particularly if it’s a small team. (eg I’m not gonna tell an independent black female lead artist she can’t recruit two white male collaborators because of a quota). It’s already hard enough to get support to do your thing in this country.
– If I’m gonna open my mouth to ask for the team to be more diverse I gotta be prepared to sacrifice my role.
– Is the creation of a diverse assistant role acceptable compromise? Not sure. I think if we are talking about fairly specialised work where there is only a small pool of people who could do the job then yes (eg vvvv programmers in Australia). But if it’s a generic theatre role they teach at the major theatre schools (eg lighting designer) then no.

Diversity analysis for the past 12 months till now.
This includes current projects at the time of writing, everything where the team is already decided.

What I’m trying to understand is if I look back at the last 12 months would insisting on more diverse teams have made an impact? If not where could I have made an impact?

Looking at it now there seems to be three categories:
I’ve got obviously diverse projects , needs closer investigation projects and diversity could definitely be improved projects.
8 x projects that were strongly diverse because of who led them and their focus (and a few had more than 50% female teams as well)
4 x projects that had a female dominated creative team (more than 50% female)

Further thought (eg some diversity, but not 50%):
1 x project that had a female lead artist, but a total ratio of 2 female to 4 male creatives. Difficulties: Independent production, recruited me for a highly specialised outcome, I was the last person recruited. Probable reaction if I said they need a better quota: Find your replacement.
1 x project that had a female lead artist, but a total ratio of 2 female to 6 male creatives. Major theatre company. Probable reaction if I said they need a better quota: They wouldn’t think it’s appropriate as from a company/whole season perspective they already exceed quota.
1 x project that had a female lead artist, but a total ratio of 2 female to 4 male creatives. Difficulties: Independent production, semi-professional. Probable reaction if I said they need a better quota: Find your replacement.

Not so diverse:
4 x entirely male teams for a series of corporate projects. Difficulties: small team, 3 people, my role was highly specialised, the other roles were the bosses, travel often involved so extra expenses in creating new roles. Probable reaction if I said they need a better quota: I think it would have taken a while to get momentum but if I was persistent we could probably start creating a diverse role on bigger projects. A diverse associate might be appropriate for this as I could teach them some of my specialised work.
2 x male dominated teams, working with a large organisation but actually quite small projects within that organisation. Difficulties: small team, 2 – 3 people, highly specialised role. Probable reaction if I said they need a better quota: Due to the size of the organisation I think they would have some flexibility to accommodate this, a diverse associate might be appropriate given the specialised nature of the work
1 x independent theatre project with male dominated creative team. Probable reaction if I said they need a better quota: Find your replacement
1 x small company theatre project (not part of a season) with male dominated creative team. Probable reaction if I said they need a better quota: find your replacement… this time. I’ve worked with them several times before so maybe over time this could promote change in their organisation.
2 x solo artwork. I think I’ll always have solo jobs, as these get bigger in future and I recruit my own teams I’ll need to make sure they are diverse.

First up that’s 25 projects in aprox 12 months that I had a creative role on. (and only 2 I really lost money on). So that’s not bad.

Of those 25 projects
– 12 were pretty diverse already
– 2 were solo projects
– 3 I think I wouldn’t have got the job if I’d insisted on greater diversity
– 8 I think diversity could have (eventually) been improved if I’d made some noise about it

– I think that goes to show it’s generally worthwhile pushing for greater diversity as a freelance artist.
– I can see that insisting on a 50% quota is going to be impossible on projects with quite small teams. Eg where the client is the lead artist and then they’ve recruited me as a specialist. Common scenario for more commercial work. If the client is male then I don’t think I’m gonna convince them to add two or more extra roles to the team for diversity balance. But I think I have a shot at getting them to add one.
– For larger teams and larger organisations I think I have a shot at getting diversity in creative teams higher on their strategic radar. Change will be slow but worth heading for, and worth heading for a real quota I reckon.

Diversity policy for the next 12 months

– If a project isn’t already strongly diverse in terms of creative team members:
– And it’s a small or independent project I will tactfully ask how we can make this project more diverse
– And it’s a major company or organisation presenting the work I will push for a 50% diverse team, and not accept less than 40%. (EG for an odd sized team the tie breaker role can be male).
– For the purposes of this action I will tactfully look to culture, gender, ability and sexuality when considering the diversity of a team.
– I gotta be prepared to sacrifice my role if it’s the only one that they will consider looking to a diverse candidate for.

I’ll report back in a year and let you know how this experiment goes.

Note there is a caveat
– I’m planning to go overseas from February 2016 for 12 months, so I’ll go from being a professional artist in Sydney to an unknown in Berlin. This is going to affect the quantity and nature of jobs that I get offered in the upcoming year. I will probably end up doing less creative jobs overall, and of the creative jobs more will be solos jobs. What I’m getting at is that the type and number of jobs may not be easily comparable between this year and the next.

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