To speak at the table: young people on boards
A transcript of the talk giving by ITC Board member Bhavini Goyate at the Cultural Governance Alliance Conference 2019
I hope you’re having a great day. My name’s Bhavini and I’m the Admin Assistant at the Young Vic, recently appointed board member for the Independent Theatre Council and Clore alumni.
I want to talk about young people on boards and provide a few provocations on how to create an environment that empowers and enables young people to be the board members that you will rely on for support and advocacy. I’m aware this conversation has been going on for a while and that I’m standing on the shoulders of organisations, resources and discussions already doing the work to lead change. A few examples –
• The Young Trustees Movement, a movement to improve the quality and quantity of young trustees in England and Wales, by committing to doubling the number of trustees that are aged 30 and under on charity boards by 2024 – the current figure is just under 3%.
• The Cultural Governance Alliance who have brought us together today provides a wealth of reports in their practical guides and knowledge libraries on diversity on boards and diverse recruitment including the Charity Commission’s ‘A Breath of Fresh Air' report and the Arts Council’s Young Trustees guide.
• The Roundhouse, who started their Youth Advisory Board in 2002 and have been recruiting young trustees since 2005 and were commissioned by the Arts Council in 2015 to create a guide called ‘Guided by Young Voices: how to include young people on your board and in your decision making process’
• Fundraising consultant Dana Segal wrote a great article in Arts Professional called ‘Nothing but a number – young people on boards’ on how to refocus your governance structures.
So a bit about me, I’ve been working in arts administration for 5 years, particularly focusing on executive assistance, governance, internal and external communications, HR and recruitment. I have been minuting board meetings for 3 years and I’ve been part of a board for about six months.
Between 2017 to April this year I developed a great relationship with Charlotte Jones who is the CEO of ITC through my involvement in the Artistic Director Leadership Programme. In March this year she got in touch and asked if I’d like to consider applying for the ITC Board because they were recruiting for new trustees. I have to admit that I hadn’t even thought about applying to become a board member anywhere – I didn’t quite think I was ready, I thought I had to be at least two ranks higher in an organisation so I can properly contribute to conversations especially with regards to finance and business advice which are areas I hope to become more experienced in (despite my various beliefs about board diversity and diversity in general I still didn’t think I fit the bill!). Nonetheless I bit the bullet and applied – the recruitment process involved a 1 minute speech at their AGM (equally as terrifying as this one) and live time voting. I got elected! I’m two board meetings in and I’m still not used to not minuting.
Speaking at the table – the process
Last week Charlotte wrote a great blog reflecting on Governance and Leadership – aptly named When Shit Hits the Fan and when the going gets tough which highlights the functions of boards – boards are:
• Custodians of the organisation’s values and offer a moral framework and a trustworthy benchmark for decision making
• Supportive and constructively challenge the CEO
• Good at listening
• Enable difficult and honest conversation
How, then, do we enable young people to feel empowered to serve those functions in these spaces alongside their peers? To challenge, to support, to offer perspective, to effect change? Here are – just a few – provocations:
• Who does your board need? Have you done a skills audit to highlight what is missing? Where are all of the different places and industries you could look to approach different kinds of people?
• Is this a two-way relationship for you? What wealth of knowledge and experience can you gain through recruiting a young person?
• Is your board representative of your audiences or the people you want to reach?
• What other organisations are doing brilliant work and how can you learn from them?
• What pre-conceptions are there about trustees / board members? To name a few: they have to be experienced and therefore high up in their organisations, that you have to provide financial advice and sometimes financial support.
• When you communicate about the role, are you being clear about what governance is and what a board member’s role is?
• Where are you posting the role?
• How are you communicating your organisational values?
• Can you hold briefings in the application stage? Working in recruitment, I think this is so important for a lot of jobs.
When they are here:
• When this person gets onto the board, are you giving board-wide inductions on what your needs are as an organisation and how the Board can support you?
• What is the Chair’s role in making sure that all voices are heard and facilitated in Board meetings?
• Are you pushing your trustees to be critical thinkers and supporters?
I want to end this by saying that though change is happening, it’s happening slowly. The conversation needs to shift from how to get young people on your board to how to keep young people on your board. Board diversity not only interrogates the recruitment process and interrogates the structure and the culture of your governance.