Doing Things Better Guest blog by Matthew Xia, Artistic Director of ATC

Last year, in November, I was announced as the incoming Artistic Director of The Actors touring Company - ATC as it’s more popularly known.

This was not for want of trying - actually this was one of a number of attempts to get myself into a leadership position with a company whose work I highly respected.

The ATC application process stood out to me - of course it did - I got the job! But it wasn’t simply because I was successful in application, but because it was one of few processes which I could describe as:

  • Open
  • Fair
  • Transparent

And I think we are all in agreement with the application of these terms to any recruitment taking place within our sector - especially at the level of senior management and artistic leadership.
I had made a number of assumptions going through these many processes but could only really confirm some of my suspicions once I had spoken to a number of peers who had also run the full length of the 2017 - 2018 leadership competition. And it is important for organisations to know this - we speak.
The disparity in how different processes are run, and even how different candidates are treated astounded me. I very much enjoy the conspiracy of it all, shady deals and whispered words - Tarek Iskander assures me it’s just good old fashioned incompetence.

Open, Fair and Transparent - On the contrary I would describe many of the processes as…
Slightly ajar, unfair and oblique.

Here are some thoughts…

1. Some panels have little understanding of what it is for an individual to sit before a panel with whom they share very little, in regard to identifying characteristics.
This could be the black woman who sat and faced two all white panels. And said to herself - I just can’t do this.
It could be me - having got through two rounds with diverse panels finally sitting and being interviewed by three white middle-class women.
It could be the disabled candidate who - having got the job - may have then struggled to access their office.

2. It costs a lot mentally, physically - and its detrimental to mental health to go through these processes with no candidate care.
I have now emailed the chair of one board four times asking for feedback on my interview - I have been ignored four times. This was for an executive level position.
A panel couldn’t make a decision between me and another final choice. So - on the Monday we expected to be told the result - instead of doing the right thing and just calling it we were asked to prepare two years worth of programming. Where on earth programs two years in advance! We were then told that the board were taking annual leave so we would reconvene in a month. A month! In this month my mental health seriously suffered. Left agonising over budgets, show titles, casting and commissions instead of being present for the annual holiday with my daughter and partner, or being present for my fiancé’s 40th in which I took her to Paris only to bother her with suggestions of Brecht over Boeuf Borgingon.

3. Panels are distributing different information to different panelist’s, stacking the odds in favour for preferred candidates - intentionally or otherwise
I sat and compared email responses to the simple question: who will be on the panel?
Whilst I was told that this information couldn’t be shared my peer showed me the response she had been sent - detailing the names and biographies of all panelist’s. Leaving the interview I bumped into another candidate - who told me that they knew two of the panelist’s but this was hear say.

In conclusion I would argue that Boards need a serious shake up around the idea of fair and transparent recruitment at senior level.

In my experience…

Boards…

…have unspoken agendas.

…tend to be aware of the work made at the theatre for which they are a trustee….

…but lack awareness of the wider industry…

Don’t apply due diligence to the process ensuring applicants receive the same information and treatment.

In contrast the ATC recruitment:

  • Was up front about preparation, presentations and panel attendance.
  • Allowed us due time to meet and ask questions.
  • Introduced us to the staff.
  • Presented a truly diverse and representative panel including artists, ACE and ITC at all stages.
  • At each stage - introduced everyone in the room, and explained the process.
  • Allowed for feedback and dialogue at each stage.

Think about what you can do to ensure your recruitment processes give every candidate the very best chance of succeeding and are genuinely Open, Fair, and Transparent.