The Art of Inclusion: Harnessing EDI to Strengthen Your Arts and Culture Organisation
Embracing equity, diversity, and inclusion enriches artistic expression and broadens audience engagement, and also ensures that the arts remain relevant, accessible, and representative of our evolving societal landscape. Diverse teams mean diverse perspectives which can drive creativity and innovation. But how can arts organisations get started with EDI in a meaningful way?
In this episode, Lucy Kerbel, founder and director of Tonic Theatre, takes us through how to start thinking about EDI, underscoring the importance of taking proactive measures, fostering collaboration, and driving sustainable change.
We learn why good intentions alone are not enough; organisations must take informed, practical actions, understanding their current situations, and barriers. Lucy explains how Tonic’s approach is about effective change management strategies and tools to successfully implement and sustain change.
Viewing diversity as a strength and understanding the bottom-line benefits of a diverse workforce and audience, means we can empower our organisational Changemakers and better support all of our EDI initiatives.
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Take a deep dive! Check out Lucy’s books:
- A Hundred Great Plays for Women https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/100-great-plays-for-women
- All Change Please https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/all-change-please
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About Our Guest
Lucy Kerbel, Director, Tonic Theatre
Lucy Kerbel, is the founder and director of Tonic. For over a decade, Tonic has supported the arts and culture sectors to achieve greater equality, diversity and inclusion. Lucy and her team devise and lead innovative and impactful change projects through a broad range of cross-sector projects, consultancy, training, and practical tools. Lucy is also the author of two books, 100 Great Plays for Women, and All Change Please, a Practical Guide to Achieving Gender Equality in Theatre, both published by Nick Hern Books.
[00:00:00] Welcome to the Arts and Everything in Between podcast, brought to you by Tickets Off.
Priya Patel: Welcome to the Arts and Everything in Between podcast, where we explore all things related to arts and culture.
I am your host, Priya Patel, and today I am really, really delighted to welcome Lucy Kerbel, founder and director of Tonic Theatre, to our podcast. , for those of you who are not familiar with Tonic for over a decade, Tonic has supported the arts and culture sectors to achieve greater equality, diversity and inclusion.
And Lucy and her team devise and lead innovative and impactful change projects. through a broad range of consultancy, training, and practical tools. Lucy is also the author of two books, A Hundred Great Plays for Women, and All Change Please, a Practical Guide to Achieving Gender Equality in Theatre.
And She’s a [00:01:00] regular speaker and event chair, so we’re really excited to have Lucy today on the podcast. So thanks so much, Lucy, for joining us. So if you can tell us a little bit more about yourself.
Lucy Kerbel: Yeah, sure. So I, before setting up Tonic, I was working as a theater director. So worked as a director for several years, prior to that I’d actually trained in technical theater, but then sort of got interested in directing.
So we’ve moved into that. And then always had a lot of, I suppose what would now be referred to as a side hustle, doing a lot of education work in theatre. Um, so you know, running lots of workshops, lots of programmes with young people. and then just got increasingly… I was fascinated, around change and how the industry could behave differently and think differently.
So over the years, that sort of became more interesting to me than, than the directing work. So gradually the dial was turned down on directing and the dial was turned up on what would eventually become Tonic.
Priya Patel: Yeah. Change is an integral [00:02:00] part of any organization if it wants to thrive. I wonder, , that kickstart to change, you know, it can be so hard. Can I ask, what was the spark that got you thinking more deeply about change within the performing arts industry?
Lucy Kerbel: Well, initially, when I set Tonic up, it had a much narrower focus than it does today. So initially, and for the first few years, we had a very specific focus, which was looking at the situation for women and girls in theatre. And that was in professional theatre, as well as new theatre, amateur theatre and because I’d been working in theatre as a director, I was I was aware of certain imbalances that were around me.
You know, I was quite used to being one of not many women in a rehearsal room. Professionally, at the time, that was still the case more often than not. I was very used to directing plays where there was maybe one woman in a cast of lots of men. And that was an experience that was quite different from when I’d been studying theatre, or with the young people I was working with when there were plenty of girls and young women.
But yet when [00:03:00] I’d got into the professional venues, when I started my career as a director, there was sort of this flip that went on. And I was also aware of,, really brilliant, really talented people sort of slipping away or maybe not getting the same opportunities as they might otherwise have got.
And I sort of thought, okay, well, we’re losing a lot of brilliant. people. , but I think at the same time I was, you know, this was sort of the early 2000s. I think that was the world we were living in. And that that’s just sort of what it was. And I just assumed that that was how it had to be, you know, it was , very imbalanced, not many opportunities for women and still quite a lot of, I suppose expectations of the kind of work that women would or wouldn’t want to do or were or weren’t capable of doing, you know, that was still something that was very openly discussed.
Or, you know, women, you know, they can’t really do comedy or I don’t know if she’s, I don’t know if she’s capable of doing a, you know, main, main stage show that might be a bit big for her. Those kinds of comments I was just surrounded by the whole [00:04:00] time when hearing people talk about. you know, peers and contemporaries of mine.
But I just, I think because I was so in it, I just assumed, well, this is how it is. Then I had this sort of coincidental trip to Sweden for something I was directing, in London, but it was a Swedish place. So I went over to Stockholm to And while I was there, I discovered that in Sweden, they’d been doing a lot of work across the performing arts around gender balance.
And they’d made some really practical changes to how they operated, uh, as an industry and the numbers really bore out. And it was really striking. It was as basic as sort of going to see plays in Stockholm and going, well, there’s lots of women on stage, which was something that I wasn’t, I just wasn’t familiar with in the UK.
And so I sort of came back to the UK, just. I suppose full of a curiosity. It was a very naive curiosity of sort of, well, why, why aren’t we, like, why can’t we do that? and I think that was the beginning of it for me was having sort of grown up with the assumption that, well, things can’t be different. It was getting on [00:05:00] an airplane and traveling a couple of hours in a direction and going, oh, but things are different here, so why can’t they be different back home?
And so I sort of came back to the UK and, and I think I was. I was in this very sort of privileged position. I had a very blessed start to my directing career. Things had happened very fast. So by 22, I was doing this job at the National Theatre, working as resident director. So a very, very kind of young age.
I was very aware that I did not have any power myself. I was not. I was not a remotely powerful person, but I knew a lot of people who were, and I knew a number of them well enough that I thought, I bet if I email them and say, can I take you for a coffee, I’d love to chat to you about this, that they’d go, okay.
And that was what happened. And so I sort of spent a bit of time just having lots of coffees for various artistic directors and literary managers, and just began those conversations with them but can’t we do things differently. And, and it was really interesting sort of experiencing some of the responses to that.
[00:06:00] And I think what became clear was that There was a lot of willingness towards change, but there was also a lot of kind of very busy people who didn’t have a clue how to start, or who maybe mistakenly thought that things were sorted in the last wave of activity in this area, or like me had been assuming that it couldn’t be different.
So we’re quite interested to that it was different somewhere else. So then when you begin to have those conversations, and you realize, okay, there’s an open mindedness here, People need something to help them do the work. Then I thought, okay, that’s what we’re missing. We’re missing that kind of hub that people can kind of coalesce around so that if they want to make change, there’s something there to support them.
So rather than there being someone there, you know, I didn’t wanna just kind of wag my finger at them and go, be better. Just, just, just sort it out. ’cause they were sort, I, you know, I think for a number of them were kind of going, I’d like to sort it out. I just dunno how to sort it out. , I think that’s, that’s the role that I realized, Tonic , could have to, be that kind [00:07:00] of support for, organizations that were interested in making change.
Priya Patel: That’s interesting that you say that because it, I feel like, people within the arts and culture that there is always this eagerness to do things differently or do things better, or, how can we improve? And definitely that open mindedness, I feel like is throughout the industry.
But, you know, as you said, it’s, it’s time poor. And how do I get started? And how do I sort of start even making a little bit of inroads and what do I prioritize when you’ve got, a plate full of things that you need to prioritize, , which I think can be frustrating. So, what was your initial approach with organizations with gender IMB balance.
Lucy Kerbel: Mm-hmm. So in initially , we did a number of projects to begin with. So, one of the things we did quite early on was we did a big project called Advance, where we brought, initially the first time we did it, we did it with cohort of 11 theaters from around the country.
And I think what felt clear was [00:08:00] that they wanted to work with us, but they also wanted to work with each other. So there was something really interesting about bringing this group of really, you know, the approach we made is we want to work with a group of forward thinking, curious organizations who want to go on this journey with us.
So the group was, it was sort of a mix, very big. Organizations like the Royal Shakespeare Company and Chichester Festival Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse and our Leeds Playhouse and then some smaller organizations like the Almeida and, Kiln and then a couple of tiny organizations like the Gate Theatre.
So it was a really interesting mix of organizations and, with that we gave them a very We asked each of them to identify a specific area that they wanted to focus on. So one organization said, well, in terms of certain areas of our workforce, we’re quite balanced.
When we look at our lighting and sound designers, they’re very rarely women that we’re working with. Others wanted to look at why it was they weren’t putting many plays on stage by women, particularly on their bigger stages. [00:09:00] Someone’s to look at casting. So it was a case of everybody looking at something very specific and we, we sort of looked at those areas with them, but then they would also share amongst themselves and then by the end of it, they had to commit to certain changes in their behavior that would then drive change.
And, and, you know, some of the things now that just seem like absolute no brainers at the time, I think were seen as quite radical. That, at the time what may seem quite shocking that certain things that are now just the norm of how we work. Well, I, sometimes find this weird to reflect on.
So I, I got asked to go onto B B C breakfast news, so like main, midweek on the sofa, to talk about the fact that Sheffield Theaters who were one of the organizations that took part, had committed to, as a result doing the program, had committed to 50 50. Men and women on stage or to, to gender balance and I suppose this is, so this would have been around 2014.
So I suppose I say sort of 50 50 I think this work was at a point before I think collectively, we were really considering how, how other [00:10:00] gender identities sort of fit within this but at the time we were talking in binaries collectively. but the fact that that made national news. I just now find it kind of bizarre.
A lovely trip up to Salford to chat about it. But, you know, now I just don’t think that would be considered anything sort of striking. It’s just what a lot of organizations that produce work. are doing, whether they’re explicit about it and public about it or whether it’s just something that they sort of know amongst themselves that now when they program a season or program a year’s worth of work that they’re kind of keeping an eye on gender balance.
But at the time it was so remarkable that that it made national news. so a lot of the work that we did began with projects where we were also trying to connect organizations so it was, felt like a collective endeavor and that they could learn. From one another. , and then we sort of kept doing that but then opened up into other areas of work so I think it became clear once we were doing the projects that there was a real need for training so I mean that [00:11:00] we run a huge amount of training today but I think what became clear was that there was lots of training out there to support organizations around DDI, but there wasn’t much that was performing arts specific.
So actually, if what you want is training that you can apply to how you run a box office, or how people are with each other in a tech rehearsal, there wasn’t really anything that had that level of nuance. So we moved into doing training. We do a lot of. One to one work with organizations and that might be quite a short, you know, sometimes they might ask us in for half a day to help them work through something they’re struggling with and sometimes that might guess working with an organization on a sort of ongoing consultative basis for a period of months, sometimes years.
And then we’ve also always been very interested in bringing people together, convening conversations. So we do a lot of events where we bring people from the industry together to spark off of each other or open up, new ways of thinking or to get things onto people’s radars.
So most [00:12:00] recently we did a event on the menopause because although it’s being discussed a bit more in society, I think there’s still a lot more of work that could be done within the performing arts and making sure that anyone who’s experiencing menopause or perimenopause is supported and really taking seriously the risk to staff retention at a time when we’re still experiencing labour shortages certainly in certain areas of performing arts to be losing people because we’re not aware of what might be going on for them during perimenopause and menopause and not supporting them sufficiently seems a bit bonkers.
So we had a great event at Soho Theatre where we had people from Across the sector came along and it was about us presenting some findings from research we’ve been doing, but also starting up conversations just so that people kind of leave going, Oh, right, yes, this is something that I can usefully be thinking about with my team, or we’ve got some great EDI work in action and our organization, but it’s never occurred to us to include [00:13:00] the menopause in that.
So that’s why we do those kinds of events.
Priya Patel: What a shift from , 50 and 50 in binary terms of men and women on stage versus now talking about menopause. The menopause piece feels like it’s kind of coming out more and more, which is nice to see, and, and neurodivergence.
Have you encountered that as well in terms of neurodivergence?
Lucy Kerbel: Yeah, and it seemed, I mean, this is anecdotal, but when I am speaking to organizations now, increasingly, they are saying they have a higher Either a higher representation of neurodivergence within their workforces or a higher proportion of people who are disclosing that.
Yes, I think it is something that increasingly organizations are alert to. I think with all this work, it’s always felt like, you know, I think the first thread that I pulled on this, I assumed that would be it. But then you start pulling at that thread and there’s just more and more and more and you realize there’s so much and I, you know, [00:14:00] the shift for Tonic from just focusing on the situation for women in theatre was, you know, in part we began to work in other areas of the performing arts and now we work right across arts and culture, so heritage organisations and literature organisations and so on. But I think when we first made the move, even out of theatre into areas like dance and opera, that was because colleagues from those fields were coming to us saying, Oh, could you do what you’ve done in theatre
but I think in terms of the move. So looking more broadly across EDI, rather than just the situation for women and girls, I think for me is once I started it, it began to make less and less sense to separate gender out from everything else. So that was a really interesting learning curve for me.
and I sort of feel that, you know, there’s still every day, I think the team and I are learning new things, but also we’re operating in a world that is dynamic and is shifting. And, you know, the last 10 years. [00:15:00] alone have been a period of really astonishing change societally, obviously, accelerated in the last few years with COVID.
But I think if we look at groups at risk of, sort of barriers to participation in the arts, whether that’s as workers or audience or participants, there are certain groups now who have clear barriers in their way to an extent that that may not have been the case. 10 years ago. , so thinking for instance about young people and the prospect of heading into a career in the arts with, you know, significant student debt and feeling very demoralized about your prospect of being able to get a secure home for yourself, renting, let alone buying, that is something which is It is a real shift, in the last decade.
So I suppose at Tonic we’re also always thinking how do we keep a pace with the changes going on in society around us, and encouraging the organisations we’re working with to do the same.
I think it’s something that we will come [00:16:00] back to, but in a, in a more fulsome way, and we’re collaborating on a piece of research at the moment, um, looking specifically at, at this, and particularly the impact of the last, you know, sort of couple of years on, on younger people who were, who were looking to build careers.
Priya Patel: . Tonic really feels like a very unique organization in the way it supports arts and culture organizations. Um, I, I wondered Lucy, um, as a starting point for our chat today about language, I think, um, many folks want to be, you know, mindful and respectful when it comes to the words and language, um, that they use.
And I feel like, you know, it can be a minefield at times. And it feels like it. It changes constantly. What are your thoughts on how to think about language , in terms of an EDI context?
Lucy Kerbel: The thing around language and terminology is really challenging because it’s, always moving and evolving and there’s something… I’m always mindful of when making a recording like this, but you know, the terminology that feels appropriate to use at the moment [00:17:00] might be different in the future.
And it’s something, I mean, I know when I was writing my books, it was something that I was hyper alert to, because things, things do change. I will say that someone’s listening Decades into the future, Priya, I’m sure people will be digging out this podcast and eagerly listening in 2023, then things do change.
, I mean, I think at Sonic we try and use language that is straightforward to understand. I think that there can be certain terms that kind of come into vogue. , because that is often driven by. Dialogue that might be taking place on social media, there’s sometimes a risk that that can feel a bit exclusionary for people who are not in that space.
Priya Patel: It is changing so much. I think even in the last. I don’t know, six months, it’s changed again. So, yeah, I just wanted to kind of, you know, make sure we kind of covered a little bit of that, just sort of that caveat. And the other, the other kind of big question, I think, [00:18:00] um, is kind of why bother with all of this?
I think we certainly understand why it’s important, you know. I, you know, I’m South Asian, so I kind of get it. And, um, you know, and I, as many of us probably did theatre, I did theatre when I was younger. And, you know, I remember having a theatre director tell me that I had no chance of…
Kind of getting work if I was really serious about it because the color of my skin so like and that has changed obviously Right. I mean a very long time ago. I will not date myself, but you know, it was a long time ago But so for me personally, I understand kind of generally, you know Why why should an organization bother if they feel like, you know, look, yeah, we’ve got we look at our program We’ve got you know women At this on stage, we do these kind of things and yeah, what should we really care about this?
Why should I kind of try to think about this a little bit more?
Lucy Kerbel: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,. So first of all, I’m sorry that that got said to you. It shouldn’t have happened. Um, so I think that [00:19:00] I’ve always come at this, and I think the whole team at Tonic always come at this from the perspective of we’re trying to make the arts as good as they can possibly be.
It’s interesting because sometimes I’ll find myself running a session in an organisation and, and there might be someone there who’s, you know, I’d say, you know, visibly disgruntled about being pulled away from their desk to come and sit in a half day UDI training or whatever, which, you know, yes, fine.
But I think that some of that disgruntlement and Sometimes comes from a perception that I am there or Tonic has turned up to kind of make things less good. That I’m there to pressure you to take less talented musicians into your orchestra, or I’m there to tell you that, you know, yeah, that play might not be as good as that play, but you’ve got to put it on because the person who wrote it is XYZ.
And that is never why, Tonic is there. Tonic was created because going back to that [00:20:00] original area of concern I had around women in theater, I could see that there were brilliant people who were just slipping away from the industry, because they couldn’t see a future for themselves in it, or they were And I think that’s a really important thing.
were being, there was a sort of a disrespect of their talent or their ability, they weren’t being progressed. I think , that’s a feeling that will bear out for a lot of different people for various reasons. But generally, if you have a group that is homogenous, if everybody in a group has had a similar experience.
Of life to date or experiences the world in the same way or sort of traveled on the same path. Collectively, that group is likely to be less successful, because when it comes to solving a problem, they’re all likely to come at it from the same direction, because that’s the direction they all come from , and they might be less likely to spot opportunities or to identify [00:21:00] potential pitfalls.
And there’s a lot of research into Diversity from a number of fields, not necessarily performing arts, which shows that you have a group of people, whether that’s a team, a department, a whole organization that is diverse, and I mean diverse in a really, really broad way. If you have those different experiences and those different ways of experiencing the world, you’re more likely to have a range of ideas.
Collectively, they’ll come up with a range of solutions. You know, they’ll challenge each other more. They’ll spark off each other more because it’s, it’s not homogenous and you’re less likely to get into that kind of echo chamber group. Think way, way of being where you are not necessarily challenging yourselves or finding new ways to do things or revolving, because will we do it like this?
’cause that’s how we’ve always done it. Um, so this work has always been that, you know, the, the, I think the original kind of, Desire to do it for me was always for a desire for the theater industry in the UK to be as strong as it could possibly be. [00:22:00] And I thought, well, if we’re, you know, in terms of the way I thought about it early on, if we are kind of ignoring or failing to capitalize on roughly half of the pool of potential talent, we’re the potential talent pool, then we’re doing ourselves and and.
I think that that conviction has just deepened in me the wider that Tonic’s work has gone. So, you know, that that’s why I brought that. It’s really interesting because there’s, I think this is maybe I experience this less, but I think for a long time, when working with organisations that were receiving any kind of public subsidy, there was sometimes a feeling of, oh well we have to do it because, we’re funded by an Arts Council that requires this authority funding means we have to do X, Y, Z.
So it was sort of a compliance thing. And then sometimes another sentiment. That you experience is a kind of a bit of a patronizing sort of charitable, like, well, we’re good people. [00:23:00] And we’re going to kind of give this to the, you know, the, you know, those those poor souls who don’t have theater or, you know, or music or dance in their lives will benevolently, you know, give it to them, like a sort of Victorian philanthropist, which I would say is a, as a driver, then you sort of go, well, what actually is the Does it become more about you having a kind of a, a nice warm, fuzzy feeling and a sort of a perception of yourself or, or was it actually about, you know, the changing things for other people?
I think that in interestingly, I mean, we work with subsidized organizations and we also work with businesses because obviously it’s. You know, anyone listening to this will know an awful lot of organizations, whether they’re venues or other kinds of businesses or companies in the performing arts, a lot of them will also be businesses.
And I would say, or commercial organizations, um, and I would say that not always, but actually sometimes those that are businesses or commercial organizations sort of [00:24:00] make more progress. More swiftly because they’re doing it for the bottom line of the organization, like they get it, they get that it brings in audiences.
They get that it brings in the best staff. You know, they, they get that if they can work out how, for instance, to become more inclusive as a working environment, they are more likely to attract and retain a mixed range of talented people. Um, and they can see how that benefits the health of the organization.
Um, and the, and I think the issue with when it becomes about. Are we nice people? Do we care? enough to do this is that’s when I think it can become something that staff within an organization either choose to opt into or opt out of. So sometimes you sort of have these situations where you’ll go in and part of a company, those people are really really up for this work and really engaged but then there are also plenty of their colleagues who are just sort of sitting out.
They’re not necessarily actively hostile towards it but they’re just not doing anything that’s. forward [00:25:00] in the organization’s agenda around change. And I think that’s when things will never be as successful as they could be, because you’ve not got everybody working on this. whereas when it is framed by an organization as this is about the health of our organization, it’s, you know, on the shoulders of every staff member to contribute to the health of this organization.
And this is one of the ways we have identified that we are going to be a healthy, successful organization. It sort of makes it non negotiable. I’m sure there’d be some people who wouldn’t, . I feel a hundred percent sort of happy with, with that analysis of things.
And I kind of wish we didn’t have to break it down in these ways. And I’m not saying that, Oh, you should only do it in order to make money. You know, what I want is I want change to happen, but I can also see that if in certain organizations, there is a commercial mindset, which means that they will only get on board with this.
If they can understand the commercial benefits, then I’d rather take that than it doesn’t happen because they haven’t realized that, that this could benefit them as well as other people.
Priya Patel: It’s good to be able to attack it from many different angles as well. I mean, [00:26:00] to have the sort of, you know, I don’t know, to be a good person or a good organization because we know it’s the right thing to do, but also to have it impact your bottom line is good as well
Lucy Kerbel: I think there’s something also about when it’s, you’re sort of doing it because you’re doing it because you are a, you know, Good, and I’m putting that in air quotes, good person or a good organization. You can get very sort of distracted by your good intentions, your feelings well, we could do this or we care about that.
But actually it’s the practical actions that you’ve got to then move on to do. Otherwise you can have the best intentions, but nothing’s necessarily going to change. There’s a quote that a colleague of mine shared with me the other week, which I wish I’d got before we did this from her, but it’s a Maya Angelou quote, which I’m going to misquote it, but it’s actions that count, not intentions.
You may have a heart of gold, but so does a boiled egg, you know, and I think sometimes. People and organizations can get so wrapped up in . You know, their, their, their own emotions in relation to how much they care that, that [00:27:00] sort of expend all their energy on that, but don’t actually get onto the, the practical work that needs
Priya Patel: to be done.
I think a lot of that definitely resonates. And I think, it is useful to be able to look at what are the practicalities and really, how do we get this done, is there’s hesitancy to take on a project like this, because people just don’t know how to start or how to get going, how to prioritize.
So I wondered managing some of this, what can feel like a very big change when it’s a very small team, or maybe even for a big organization as well,
Lucy Kerbel: I mean, it’s sort of interesting. I feel so we, you know, we’ve worked with.
In a, in a very sort of sustained deep manner with some of the biggest formal arts organizations in the country. So we’re a lot of house, house and staff, national theater, similar, certainly before the pandemic. , so working with some of the biggest, but then also we do work with teeny tiny organizations with, you know, micro teams of sort of two or three people and everyone in between.
And I, I don’t think I’ve ever gone to an organization where people haven’t said, Oh, we’re really busy. Um, or there’s not enough resource here to do everything we need to do. So [00:28:00] I think whether you’re massive or whether you’re tiny, you know, I think the bigger you get, the more you’re meant to be delivering.
So it all scales. Um, so I suppose I will say that, first of all, I think everybody, regardless of how large the organization is, experiences challenge around capacity. I think, I think there’s, I think often the difference actually around scale is about speed. Um, in that the very big institutions, They’re like these sort of ocean liners that take a long time to turn around, whereas the small organizations can be like the little kind of speed boats that are very nippy and get stuff done.
And I remember once, um, speaking to someone who was in a very small organization, um, And we were talking about how challenging her colleagues in a larger organization seem to be finding things. And she said, well, yeah, because I guess my team, we’re all in the same room. So if I want to do something as the exec director, I just sort of spin around in my chair and I ask the rest of the team, should we do this?
Um, and they either say yes or [00:29:00] no, or we have a brief conversation, but we can make. change at that speed, whereas the big, the big institutions, you know, it can be weeks before people can even find a time to have a conversation. And then there’s, you know, a few hundred other people to have conversations with anyway.
I mean, I think in terms of starting, I, I mean, I’m always an advocate of. Start small, but well, I think very often will work with organizations who have decided they’re going to overhaul everything. And they often give themselves, I would say an unrealistically short period of time you know you sort of map out of them what their aspirations are around UDI.
They want to go from a sort of a standing start to complete overhaul. And the thing is going to happen within six months or I think, this is, I think this is a five year project that you’re drawing up it. Um, so I think it, you know, and I, and I think it’s really easy for people to get disillusioned or exhausted.
Or to go, [00:30:00] yeah, see, we knew it wouldn’t work. If you try and take on too much up front, I think it’s always better to do something that’s more, um, limited up front and almost treat that like a bit of a pilot. And a pilot of how are we going to do this as an organisation? Not necessarily a pilot of what the change could be, but what’s our methodology for doing this work?
Um, because then if you do something kind of quite small and maybe make it a bit of a project and you go, okay, well, we’ve. identified that this is an area that people are interested in us looking at so we’re going to create a bit of a project around it and we’re going to have it completed by Christmas.
And at the, I don’t know, Christmas team day, we’re going to tell everybody how it’s gone. Um, then if that’s gone well by Christmas, then you can maybe build on it and do something a bit more ambitious between Christmas and, I don’t know, the Easter holiday. And then you can tackle something else and you can sort of grow it gradually.
And also if something isn’t so huge. It’s not, you’re not going to be massively embarrassed if you have to say to people it [00:31:00] didn’t, it didn’t work out. Because of course all of this work, it’s a lot of kind of trial and error and just trying new things. Um, and so obviously that doesn’t always. go to plan.
so quite often with organizations, we’ll talk about sort of trialing stuff or piloting stuff or just test, testing stuff. Um, so I think not trying to overhaul everything at once. I think not setting yourself up for failure by saying we’re going to be experts in this. This is something we’re going to be the leaders in this.
This is something I see quite a lot , I’ve got like. No in house expertise, no track record, they haven’t got a clue how they’re going to do it, but for whatever reason they go, we are going to be the leaders in our field in this or, you know, we’re, and I think it’s maybe part of the rhetoric of how performing arts organisations often have to talk about themselves, we are an exceptional this, we’re a remarkable that, we are the leading this, that or the other, but if you’re not, if you don’t have the clear skill set or resource in house, To be leaders in this [00:32:00] field, don’t, you don’t, don’t put that pressure on yourself to say, you know, say we’re going to get initially more competent at this.
And then you can work up and who knows, maybe at some point in the future, you can aspire to be a leader in it. But be realistic like you would with with anything. And I think that in terms of if, if you’re sort of going, okay, well, where do we start, I think that Actually starting off by doing a bit of a praising of the current situation is really fundamental and it’s amazing how often it gets missed by organizations because people are so up for just like cracking on and doing and so sometimes you’ll find that these like initiatives and schemes and stuff has just been created.
Um, but without any proper phase, first of all, to go, what’s the situation, you know, for instance, in our, in our youth company, what’s the makeup of who’s coming or okay, we don’t seem to have many young people from that part of the town. Why aren’t they coming to our youth company? Let’s go and find out, you know, there’s no kind of listening exercise or trying to [00:33:00] understand, you know, Okay.
You know, why, if they’re not coming from that half of the town, what is it? Is it that the transport links aren’t there? Is it that they don’t know you exist? Is it that they don’t feel they’d be welcome? Is it that instead they’re going somewhere else and that’s why they’re not coming to you? There’s not always just that kind of, um, space given to appraising what the current situation is.
Instead, and I think it’s because in the performing arts often we’re, we’re really good doers, you know, I think for a number of us, the reason we have built a career and have stayed here because we can just get stuff done. We’re often very good at just cracking on and doing things. But I think in this instance, before you crack on and do, you have to really understand what the, what are the barriers?
Why do they exist? And then once you’ve understood that, okay, how, how could we address them? Because otherwise there’s a risk you’re sort of creating these initiatives or these schemes or making these changes, , internally. But they’re sort of based on your hunch of what is needed, rather than really, uh, you know, hearing from the [00:34:00] people that you’re trying to target or, you know, make change for, and then you can have sunk a load of resource into something that isn’t needed or isn’t necessarily going to work.
And that’s particularly problematic when EDI, because often this Work is really personal and if you’ve got, for instance, someone in your workforce who is in an underrepresented group in your workforce and they can see that, you know, this, this, something’s being created, which they can just see is not, is not going to be useful.
And they’re watching it play out and they can see that resources been put into it and then it kind of flops. That’s not necessarily going to be something that’s going to make them feel, Oh, I’m a valued member of this organization or necessarily feel that there’s going to be. Um, much success in terms of, of work, um, being done to diversify the workforce, if for instance, that’s what that organization wants to
Priya Patel: do.
You mentioned there , although we experience change in all of our organizations, change [00:35:00] can be difficult and it can feel like, oh, yeah, we can just crack on and get this done.
Just this type of change, . You know, sometimes you just need that outside input. To sort of help take a view into the organization and, and look at change differently as a process rather than just let’s just crack on with it,
Lucy Kerbel: Something that we do work with organizations on is managing processes of change.
And that’s always been a bit. I think a number of organizations actually do have people where within their skill set is change management. People that, for instance, have led on capital campaigns, or they’ve had to restructure a staff team, or, you know, they’ve, they’ve implemented some kind of chain, you know, they’ve rolled out a new IT system.
So actually change is something that not all organizations, but some organizations will actually find they’ve got those skills in place, but the dots are not often connected. There’s not necessarily a connection made between how to successfully implement a change process and bring people with [00:36:00] you. And that is absolutely what any EDI related work is about.
Generally, it’s about, it’s about change. It’s inevitably about change. It’s about saying we don’t currently, we’re not currently. a kind of organization or our program isn’t what we want it to be. So we want to change that. so I think having the, the tools, the understanding of change management as a discipline is really important.
But I think, and again, sometimes because it can be emotion driven, maybe when I was talking earlier about the, the impulse to go, but, but we’re good, or we just want, to do this, that things aren’t always, uh, there’s not always. As much rigor, uh, you know, you wouldn’t embark on a capital campaign without, like, serious thought as to what it’s going to entail, timelines.
A lot of pragmatism, um, and I think that sort of EDI related change is not necessarily the scale of a capsule campaign, but I think it’s applying some of [00:37:00] those processes.
Priya Patel: It can feel quite, , public in a way, , like EDI feels a bit bigger and more public and a bit more. , I don’t know, consequential, like a capital campaign, if that makes sense. .
Lucy Kerbel: And it, you know, it can, it can be hugely consequential. , you know, from a, um, I mean, it can be absolutely cataclysmic for an organization if, it’s not handled effectively.
but I do think if you, if, if as an organization you don’t have any existing. Experience in this area, but you want to get going. Maybe don’t kick off with something that’s really kind of massively public and out there. Maybe just do , small and internal first, which might be a really kind of discreet piece of work.
Um, you know, picking a particular area and going, how’s this working at the moment? How do people feel about that? And doing some listening, doing some research and then going, okay, this is what we’ve heard. What could we do differently? What could we? Change. And then if you sort of get comfortable working in that way, then you can think about how you could [00:38:00] expand it.
Priya Patel: I think for sure that these changes have a net positive effect for everyone if we’re open to it. Along those same lines, what are your thoughts about the future in terms of EDI and, uh, the arts and culture industry, specifically in terms of leadership and management?
Lucy Kerbel: I think at Tonic we want to see more support for and status given to the people who are driving. EDI work within performing arts organizations. , so that is something that has changed over the last decade is that there’s now across a lot of performing arts organizations, someone who has a role, which is specifically to drive change around EDI.
And that might sometimes be an official role. They are called something like, EDI manager. , and then other times it’s something which is an unofficial role. It might be that there’s a member of staff who sort of expressed an interest or that there’s a. staff diversity working group and there’s, you know, people taking part in that or chair in that group or whatever.
But I think what we [00:39:00] feel is that those people are often doing that work in isolation, you’re often the only person in the organization that’s doing it. And You’re maybe more often than not someone who is themselves on the receiving end of some of the challenges that you’re trying to address in your organization or in the wider industry.
So there’s the, there’s a further implication around the isolation. There’s often a lack of sort of structured support or training for those people or professional development routes. There’s not really any way you can go at the moment if you really want to be an EDI specialist in the performing arts.
There’s no courses you can do. I know for Tonic, there’s nowhere that we can look to to recruit from because we’re sort of on our, on our own in this area. So something that we’re looking to do is, is create a program called Changemakers, which is specifically supporting those people.
So to date Tonic is really focused on supporting organizations. I think going forward, we also want to support those individuals. Who in an official or unofficial capacity are trying to [00:40:00] drive that change. But I think what that’s part of is really trying to up the profile of this work, it’s almost like a whole new sort of career strand within the performing arts, which I think is still in its early stages.
But I know certainly I. I haven’t met anyone who’s doing exactly the job that I’m doing. on my team, I don’t think there’s anyone on the team who could find their opposite number in another organization. So I think that making sure that those of us who are doing this work are more connected, but that there is more profile and support going forward.
As a, as a credible career that just as someone might go, I want to work in theatre marketing. or I aspire to be a general manager of an orchestra or whatever. I would hope that if in a few years someone said I want to be an EDI lead within performing arts organization that they would be able to see that as a career.
And could see people doing it understood how that worked understood [00:41:00] what that could mean for them in terms of their professional development because I think this work. is only going to get more and more fundamental to how we’re doing things. Um, so I think it deserves the recognition and the support accordingly.
And I think in terms of developing that pool of people, I think we feel that people who do this e d I work are often, would often be great candidates for leadership roles. Not just leadership around E D I, but just leading organizations generally because. When you’re doing this kind of work, you have to develop a knowledge of how a whole organization works.
You have to work collaboratively with different teams. You need to understand what’s going on in different teams, but you also need to get a strategy. You need to be an excellent communicator. You need to be able to express a vision and take people with you. These are a lot of skills that we want our leaders to have in the performing arts.
Um, and I think we, we do know that in terms of leadership, we, we want a more diverse range of leaders and diverse in, various respects. [00:42:00] I think we’ve got within the people that are doing that EDI work. I think we’ve potentially got a nascent diverse cohort of leaders. And I think it’s just joining up the gaps for those people so that doing the EDI work within an organization feels like a trajectory into a leadership , rather than some of the more sort of traditional routes
Priya Patel: through.
Any final thoughts you want to leave us with ? ,
Lucy Kerbel: I think not to sound corny, I think ultimately this work is about hope and Speaking from a personal perspective, I think that in the last few years, which have been, you know, incredibly tough for everyone in different ways.
And I think then there’s also been, as everyone listening to this will know, the additional ramifications for the Life Performing Arts. I have been so grateful. In recent years to have had the opportunity to [00:43:00] work on something that was about hope and to be holding on to that one of my colleagues says she was says we are in the business of hope, you know, that’s that’s what we’re all about.
And so I think that. You know, this is, we continue to operate in incredibly difficult circumstances in this sector and, and, you know, in the performing arts. And I think, um, many people listening to this, particularly if they’re in management and leadership roles will have had a really, really tough time in the last few years.
And, um, all I would say is that if you, if you can find a way to inject a bit more of this EDI work into what you’re doing, like sometimes, yes, it can feel frightening. And in fact, can feel complicated. But it can also feel really hopeful and, um, I think anything, anywhere where we can find hope at the moment I think is worth its weight in gold.
So, um, I would say don’t be, don’t be scared of it. See if you can find [00:44:00] a way to, um, help you sort of keep, keep you and your organization moving forward, um, in the next few years towards what will hopefully be a more hopeful place.
Priya Patel: Well, I definitely think we can close this episode out on that hopeful note, um, and no doubt you’ve inspired our listeners. So I wondered, Lucy, if you could, um, let listeners know what they can do to get involved in EDI or learn more about making EDI changes in their organizations.
Lucy Kerbel: So I think if there’s anyone listening to this who is doing EDI focused work in their performing arts organization and would benefit from some additional support, and I suppose feeling like they’re part of a bit of a community of people doing that, then do check out Changemakers, we’re going to be beginning that from January 2024.
So I think we can put a link for that in the show notes, that go along with this. I think, um, the, the Tonic website is, is packed [00:45:00] with everything we do. So you can find out there about our one to one work with organisations, our training, you can read about some of the projects that we’ve done in the past with organisations.
You can also buy our books and the range of plays which we publish as well, which are published for youth theatre companies. Um, and we’ve got some digital resources as well. So if you’re keen to get Started to have a dig around the Tonic website and there might all be something there for you.
A big thank you again to Lucy Kerbel of Tonic for sharing her insights and knowledge. Head over to our show notes for a full list of resources for this episode. I think the big takeaways for me were, to tackle EDI change with clear objectives and goals and to try out some ideas in, in sort of small ways and expand from there.
I think we definitely need to be supporting EDI leaders and Foster professional development of nascent leaders. But maybe most importantly is learning to listen and consider other perspectives, whether that be our own colleagues or audiences and communities. I [00:46:00] think Lucy gave us a lot of food for thought, and hopefully we can welcome Tonic back for some more insights in EDI with arts, culture, and performing arts.
Thanks for listening. See you next time.
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