3. Diversity, Inclusion, Accessibility
Our committee and our community discussed ‘diversity and inclusion’ and ‘accessibility’ as separate topics. There is so much in each of them, but also so much which intertwines. We have discussed them here together to reflect these links but, ironically, in writing and reading this section it becomes clear that, as all people and situations are so unique, collating your diversity and inclusion efforts under one banner is probably not best practice.
Specific, focussed research and learning in individual cases, appropriate choices for specific moments and flexibility are really important when working with a diversity of freelancers and organisations. You can learn more about specific legal obligations and rights here.
“It’s not about you. It’s not about how you perceive things. It’s not about how you explain things in your language. It’s about how that information is taken on board. It’s about how other people see and understand what you are trying to say.”
Be specific in your research and responses
Be ready to listen and learn
Build in time to adapt
Enjoy the art of new ways of working
Be proactive in offering options and adjustments
3.1 Organisations should ensure that their power structures reflect the people who work for them and the audiences and public that they serve.
Organisations should include diverse voices at board level, and at all levels. They should also consider who is consulted on decisions and try to ensure that the effort is being made to reach out to a range of people about any big decisions.
3.2 Inclusivity, equality and diversity conversations should be built into organisational governance structures and should be an ongoing issue.
This might be a standing item for a regular meeting, or always included on the agenda for any project management/planning strategic meeting. In preparation staff and freelancers should be given the opportunity and be encouraged to read and reread policies.
Such policies should be carefully crafted and adapted as things develop in the organisation, in the community and in the wider world.
Many of our freelance community see diversity issues being shouted about from time to time and see them treated as ‘flavour of the month.’ In order to rebuild trust any practical actions taken must be sustained.
3.3 Don’t assume.
It is not an organisation’s place to assume the identity, ability or circumstances of a freelancer and allocate work based on these assumptions. Include freelancers in conversations that are about them.
3.4 Organisations should ensure that there is space and time in a budget to be inclusive.
Budget may be needed for access requirements of freelancers hired and time may be needed for communication, understanding and adjustment.
Budget and time may also be needed to reassess outreach and communicate in different ways with various communities. Use your access budget carefully, according to the information you gather from your employees and participants.
Many of the organisations from our community have experienced situations where they have needed to work with or support a colleague or employee in an unexpected way. Not everything can be pre-empted or planned, but time to rethink, adjust and improve can always be built in.
It is best practice to find and articulate the joy in new ways of working.
3.5 Organisations should be clear about their current diversity and inclusion policy.
Make this accessible and sign post people to it when engaging with them, when hiring for example.
3.6 Make the routes to raising issues about diversity and inclusion clear as part of a structured grievance policy.
Many freelancers in our community expressed a fear of raising issues, and gave examples of negative reactions to issues raised at work around diversity, equality and inclusion.
Not only are issues in these areas likely to be personal, highly stressful and isolating by their very nature, freelancers are often further isolated by lack of connection to other staff and therefore more likely to worry about being labelled as a ‘trouble maker’ or ‘oversensitive’.
There should be proactive communication from organisations about the fear of damage to relationships and the importance of raising issues.
3.7 Organisations should use plain and accessible communication, adapting when they can.
In terms of language, some freelancers may feel that something isn’t for them when language feels exclusive or vague, or even if they associate the accent of an organisation spokesperson with power and exclusion. This is good to be aware of.
A simple way to make a form more accessible might be to provide example answers.
For all forms of communication it is good practice to provide multiple options, e.g. images, sound, video, captioning, BSL interpretation, audio description, face to face meetings etc.
3.8 Organisations should consider the voices they are using to communicate with and whether they are employing the right people to speak to their various communities.
It may not be appropriate, for example, to bring in a freelancer from London to run a project in Liverpool under the guise of a ‘big opportunity for the participants.’ The opportunity falls flat if the participants and local freelancers feel excluded.
Similarly, organisations should be representative of their project in their hiring choices, e.g. women for women focussed projects, black artists for a project that talks to black communities, LGBTQ+ freelancers to lead on projects with LGBTQ+ participants etc.
3.9 Support candidates from various class and educational backgrounds; make the available support clear from the outset so they know the opportunity is ‘for them.’
Consider whether a job really requires a degree, or whether this is an unnecessary barrier. Can your organisation support someone in getting a DBS check? Make sure you have budgeted to pay expenses. Will a work environment be risky for a freelancer from a specific background and how can you make them feel safe?
3.10 Don’t use diversity solely as a marketing tool, funding or tick box exercise.
Use monitoring forms for freelance staff, then learn from and act on the results.
3.11 Understand that freelancers bring more to the table than their ‘identity’.
If you are only engaging black artists for projects dealing with black issues, for example, and not in all your work, you are missing out on the diversity of skills and perspectives that can be brought by under-represented voices.
3.12 Consider unconscious bias training.
Many organisations are trying their best, they have good intentions, but unconscious bias is a problem and it always will be.
3.13 Pay well and consider flexible options for pay.
Put simply, if opportunities are not paid, or low paid, then only a particular type of demographic will be able to afford to take up that work. This is cross sectional and relates to class, gender, ethnicity, people with access needs, those with care responsibilities and more.
3.14 Organisations should reach out to freelancers proactively to ask if there are any adjustments needed for them to do their work. Freelancers should remember that they are not obliged to give details.
There are legal requirements to make reasonable adjustments for work, but waiting for a freelancer to ask for these adjustments is not best practice. Reaching out will help to break fears of ‘being a nuisance’.
There are members of the arts community who have worked at a loss, making adjustments for themselves, though fear of damaging a relationship with an organisation or entity, so clarifying that this has no effect on whether a freelancer will be re-hired is important.
Be aware that someone does not have to give you all the details of their disability and is also entitled to confidentiality.
Ask ‘what do you need?’ rather than ‘what is your disability?’
3.15 Make application, hiring and interview processes accessible.
3.16 Organisations should try to be specific in their plans, in their outreach, in their responses.
A lot can be missed and obscured by talking about diversity in broad brushstrokes.
Consider using paid consultants to help with reaching demographics that you have trouble reaching.
BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) is broadly disliked as a description of a demographic.
Best practice would be to research and tailor communication depending on the specific project or moment. We’ve also looked into some examples of race and ethnicity terminology to provide some background information here.
3.17 Organisations should normalise asking people for their pronouns.
Asking for these to be displayed by everyone on Zoom call names, for example, makes everyone feel comfortable in expressing their pronouns.
3.18 Organisations should keep freelancers appropriately informed about the needs of those working with them.
Where appropriate, and with participants’ permission, information should be relayed so that freelancers can make reasonable adjustments to their own work and meet their own standards of diversity, equality and inclusion.
3.19 Organisations should equip freelancers with the means to support the participants they are working with.
We heard from our freelance community that organisations will sometimes seek to work with people who have a diversity of needs, and sometimes use this as part of their funding bid or to improve their image, but will not provide the adequate resources or training to support staff and participants properly.
3.20 Seek out funding to provide support for freelancers with access needs.
Not everything has to fall on the budget of an organisation and there is Access to Work support available from the DWP, various charities and Arts Council England. Organisations can also look at disability led organisations for examples, advice and support.
3.21 Large organisations should consider providing access to their resources for the wider arts community.
3.22 Ask to be told.
Many sections of the arts community are excluded from monitoring forms, tick boxes, outreach, participatory projects and support. Consider letting the community tell you who they are and what they need. Don’t use an ‘other’ tick box, but rather an ‘educate us’ space for people to enter their own information.
It is best practice to plan ahead for this in a way that is appropriate for the size of project and organisation. Budget for access, and then, if this budget is not needed for your specific project this time, use it to improve your organisation’s overall access capabilities, e.g. buy a ramp or software to use in the future.
Where capacity to do this is limited it is best practice to make it clear that adjustments will be made and that the pathways to request these are clear and accessible.
Be flexible in the way you employ people where possible. Not everyone will have the resources to set themselves up as a limited company because your organisation is unable to pay sole traders, neither will some people be able to work as an employee and absorb taxation and expenses until the end of the tax year. On the other hand, migrants on certain types of visas are not allowed to work as self-employed.
It should be noted that some forms of support may take too long for short form projects.