The Challenges of Employment

By Charlotte Jones, CEO of ITC

Next week ITC is holding online the conference we planned and postponed from March. At the time of originally planning the conference we had identified the challenge of being an effective and ethical employer as being a particularly difficult and important issue for small performing arts organisations. It is one of the main reasons that ITC was set up 45 years ago and it forms the backbone of our services, activities and advocacy work for the sector. Ethical employment is at the heart of our values and forms three of the pillars of our membership agreement:

‘As an ITC member i/we recognise that the performing arts thrive when people are put before profit’
‘As an ITC member I/we commit to providing the best possible working conditions and pay’
‘As an ITC member I/we commit to promoting inclusion, equal opportunities and diversity’

These values and commitments felt very important in March – they feel even more important facing the existential crisis of the global pandemic and the essential issues high-lighted through the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

Never have our responsibilities as employers felt so crucial to address and so hard to achieve. Gathering as a sector to explore creative ethical practice and to forge positive change feels timely and vital.

We are inviting sector leaders to share their learning and questions about current leadership challenges (shared leadership, new leadership, succession planning, and self-care). We will be examining the role of the producer as leader – this being such a pivotal role within companies.

We will be providing practical sessions to enhance our understanding of and strengthen our practice in ensuring dignity at work and good settlement of employment disputes. Four ITC companies will be presenting their work in progress and leading a discussion around challenging and preventing racism in touring.

Our final day will delve further into approaches to team building, team care, well-being, morale and inclusion.

All of the sessions will attempt to create space for discussion, peer-learning and networking - another central pillar of ITC’s values – ‘The value of contributing to a community of performing arts professionals and sharing knowledge and experience with peers.’ Whilst facilitating our forums and courses I am always impressed by the generosity of ITC members, their willingness to share with peers and the good use they make of each other’s support.

Being an employer and a leader is a lonely and daunting role at the best of times. Most of our members will have been ‘parachuted’ into that role with little preparation or training. They will have set out as Artistic Directors, writers, actors, educators, producers and found themselves suddenly at the sharp end facing the responsibilities of being an employer. Very few ITC companies are large enough to have anything resembling an HR department. Our role at ITC is to help to fill that gap through advice, troubleshooting, mediation, guidelines, policies and our essential role of negotiating minimum industry standards (working conditions and pay) with the unions. We work to provide the ethical employment framework on which ITC companies can build their own excellent creative practice.

The pandemic has heightened the problem of isolation for everyone. When engaged in advising and helping to settle disputes I am often reminding members that the people they are dealing with are likely to be in some way traumatised. What appears as unreasonable or intransigent behaviour could be a symptom of distress. It is worth holding that possibility in mind whilst attempting to solve people puzzles.
I hope next week we can help shine a light on some of these issues and facilitate some productive problem-solving.

These are unusually tough times for being a small employer and the road ahead is still full of uncertainties. Join us next week for some support, encouragement and inspiration from peers.

Book tickets for the conference here