Resources Article

Patience, Pragmatism & Persistence

Anna Lowe – Founder of Smartify, Trustee at Tate, and Forbes 30 Under 30 2019 – on what’s required of cultural boards in order to become more diverse, inclusive and representative of the people they serve.

It is an honour to have recently been appointed Youth Engagement Trustee at the Tate, becoming the youngest serving board member of a UK national museum or gallery. My role is to support the organisation in better serving the needs of young people, becoming an enabler and amplifier for their creative energy.

It might seem obvious, but at present trustees in the UK are not representative of the population, with young people, women and BAME communities dramatically under-represented. A report by the Charity Commission* found that the average age of a charity trustee in the UK is 61 and that 64% of all trustees are male. Furthermore 92% of charity board members are white compared with 86% of the UK population as a whole. And 75% of trustees have household income above the national average.

This matters because museums like many other sectors are facing significant challenges: financial uncertainty; external political chaos; digital and environmental concerns; and the need to be relevant to a fast changing contemporary society. Addressing these challenges requires leadership that is representative, responsive and open. A board’s strength lies in its collective skills and perspectives. To understand the museum’s current and potential audiences and to serve them effectively, a board needs a diverse range of people from a variety of backgrounds and experience.

A younger board member can tap into new collaboration opportunities or be faster at raising a red flag when criticism is shared outside of traditional media. A younger board member can ask the seemingly ‘obvious’ questions and be honest if something feels gimmicky, patronising or just plain boring. Most importantly, putting a young person on the board holds an organisation accountable to their well-meaning intentions of reaching diverse audiences, providing greater assurance that allocation of resources is actually happening. A diverse board increases public confidence in a museum’s work.

Of course, one trustee cannot and should not try to represent the voice of all young people. There are many additional ways still needed to bring the many diverse and unique experiences into an organisation. For example, at Tate the ‘Tate Collective’ now has over 60,000 members of 16-25 year olds who can access reduced price exhibition entry. They were recently asked by the Mayor of London to curate a series of outdoor public artworks by 20 women and non-binary artists. This combination of meaningful engagement backed up with a financial commitment is how to reach a wider audience.

Looking more broadly at the lack of equal representation in leadership beyond the art world it is shocking how the problem continues to persist across almost every sector. In my ‘day job’ I am cofounder of Smartify, a global digital platform for discovering and sharing art. Throughout my time growing the startup I have been responsible for raising investment from independent ‘Angel’ investors and larger Venture Capital firms. According to the British Business Bank**, in the UK only about 1% of venture capital cash went to women led businesses in 2018, and only 10% to those with a woman on the founding team.

Since launching the company in 2017 I have been fortunate to meet some amazing investors (both male and female) who have offered their time and guidance as well as financial support for the business. But there have been far more times when I have felt like the token ‘young woman’ in a pitching competition and have left feeling deflated. During these experiences I would ask myself if I am just being paranoid and then feel even more guilty if I ‘give in’ and bring my male co-founder the next time round. But according to the Harvard Business Review*** an identical pitch, for an identical business, has four times more likelihood of being funded with an all-male team. Moreover, investors ask different questions to male vs female founders, leading to very different funding outcomes.

Tate is credited with reinventing the museum and changing British culture. It is fantastic then to see the organisation instituting real change at the top. We’re now edging towards the next decade and as a national museum, with influence, Tate has a responsibility to shape the future of what a gallery is and does. My hope is that it will also have an impact beyond the arts sector and we will see more charities and corporate companies include the voice of young people, women, BAME and people of all backgrounds at the highest level of governance.

The willingness to open up is always risky. It requires a readiness to accept that your assertions and conclusions can be shredded and to look at your organisation with dispassionate and rigorous pragmatism. However, the result is a more resilient, future-facing organisation that can access new markets, new opportunities and new types of leaders. 

This article was originally published on the Cultural Governance Alliance website.

By Anna Lowe – Founder, Smartify | Trustee, Tate | Forbes 30 Under 30 2019 |

*Charity Commission…

**British Business Bank…


Themes Governance Inclusive Leadership Practice Qualities of Leadership