/ Chair's Opinion / On the road to a more diverse CLOA

On the road to a more diverse CLOA

Val Birchall

If we want to tap into the creative capacity of everyone, not just those with the greatest opportunity, we have to design things differently.  If we want our decisions to be rounded, with input from different perspectives, we have to open our discussions up and hear the voices, stories and variety of experiences across society.  We have the power, and the responsibility to make that happen.  And why wouldn’t we? 

The subject of diversity can be a trigger for heated debate.  By no means am I an expert in this field and at times my approach is clumsy, but I do want to start a purposeful conversation with you about how CLOA can improve our work in this area. 

The authorities where I have worked have embraced difference as a strength and actively sought to level the playing field.  It just isn’t tenable in a city like Birmingham, with a non-white population of over 40%, or Brighton with the highest proportion of same sex households in the UK, or Coventry with its serious and persistent health inequalities, to be complacent or passive about providing opportunities for minority population groups.  So, like many of you, I’ve focussed my career on taking action to address inequality and sought to improve things wherever I can. 

I know it is a passion which is shared throughout the public sector and that there have been and continue to be many inspirational programmes and effective projects.  For example, CLOA is a partner in the Leading Libraries: Transforming library leadership project being run by Libraries Connected.  Funded by Arts Council England, it is aiming to develop the talent within unrepresented groups in the workforce in 15 library services across England.  CLOA will be involved in the mentoring phase which will support emerging leaders and there will also be an online resource for all library services to access to further this work.

At Coventry City Council we have developed a pilot programme for developing leadership capacity of people with disabilities working in the cultural sector, as artists, producers and managers.  We will be working with experienced leadership consultants, Lara Ratnaraja and Helga Henry, our two universities and the British Council’s Unlimited team to deliver a programme which will include high profile inspirational leaders, bespoke training, online resources and a programme of publicly accessible podcasts.  Our Council has a priority for increasing participation in culture and sport by disabled people.  This programme aims to ensure that people with disabilities are involved actively as leaders and not purely seen as participants in the traditional sense.  You can find out more here www.leadwithadvantage.com

It is disappointing that the funding for these kinds of scheme is usually project-based, when the inequalities are so ingrained in our society and it seems to me that we need to go further in sustaining programmes and supporting individuals in the longer term by embedding action more fundamentally. 

CLOA itself needs a debate about how we make sure talent is able to rise throughout our sector.  Looking inward, we have made progress in recent years in improving our gender balance on the CLOA committee, but there is much more we should be doing actively to ensure a senior leadership tier for the sector that represents the wider population.  We don’t have detail on the invisible dimensions of diversity, but it is noticeable, for example, how white we are as a group.  That will only perpetuate if we do not find ways to actively support progression through our services from people with diverse backgrounds.  Having shared my concerns with a number of you, I know many members feel the same.  Local government leaders in the sector at all levels, our own membership and our Executive Committee could and should be more diverse.  

In my role as Chair of CLOA I would really like to talk to you about how we can support and accelerate professional progression.  I’d like to identify practical actions we should take and consider how we can make any and all of our members confident of a warm welcome onto the Executive Committee.  To progress this, Debbie Kaye and Polly Hamilton, our two Vice Chairs and I invite you to join us for an online round table on  Wednesday 9 Sept 2pm – 3.30pm.  Please email info@cloa.org.uk to sign up and do encourage your colleagues to join the conversation too.  We are keen to reflect, listen, question, learn and openly discuss how to take positive action. We need your help to do better.

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