Fiona Wotton, Creative Kernow CEO, reflects on the need to make space on International Women’s Day.
International Women’s Day always feels like a mixed blessing. It is truly a great opportunity to celebrate the strengths and talents of women all over the world and demonstrate how far we have come in the battle for equality. But the need for a day which brings this to global attention is a stark reminder that gender inequality is still an everyday reality for millions of women.
As a new Chief Executive leading a predominantly female organisation, this year I’m using March 8th as a moment to reflect on all the opportunity I’ve experienced in my life which have helped equip me to take on this role. As the old adage goes, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. and throughout my childhood, education and career I’ve been surrounded, lifted up, and given space by some phenomenal women leaders. And I’m lucky to be working alongside inspirational female leaders in Cornwall from wide ranging organisations, including those who are freelancers and community activists.
Sadly, for all the progress we can see in terms of women cracking glass ceilings, making the senior appointments lists and creating positive change, inequalities in opportunity and employment persist and are widely reported in the cultural and creative sectors. Recent research has highlighted the underrepresentation of women in UK theatre and the award ceremony season is once again overshadowed by lack of progress towards inclusion in the film industry. Just 16% of working film-makers are female, and only 14% of prime-time TV is written by women. These inequalities are further complicated by divisions of age, class, disability, ethnicity, and now by Covid-19. And if you are a woman working in the creative sector in Cornwall you will have added challenges to navigate with low wages, fewer and more precarious opportunities plus a lack of affordable housing and transport.
As a sector we need to be more attuned to the broader debates about inclusion and the barriers which prevent groups and individuals from feeling welcome, supported, and listened to. Last week we were pleased to welcome Marcus Alleyne and Beresford Lee from Black Voices Cornwall to our Creative Kernow team meeting. Formed in August last year, BVC exists to be a voice for all ethnicities in Cornwall, to campaign for change and drive to bring about an actively anti-racist region. Our session covered practical tools and advice to help us work towards new and stretching goals, as well as reflections on what it is like to be a black person living in a majority white area of the UK. Hearing Beresford repeat the kind of abuse that he has heard directed towards him in Cornwall was a very powerful experience. Statistics about inequality and racism can only tell us part of the story and it reinforced in my mind the kind of organisation that Creative Kernow needs to be and the role that we can play in opening the space for new voices to be heard and questions to be asked and answered. We agreed with BVC that, as well as more immediate activity, we would like to invite them back in 12 months’ time to see how our organisation is engaging in being actively anti-racist, with action research and the strengthening of feedback loops being key elements.
Our spring newsletter is full of brilliant examples of women doing courageous work in our uncertain times as part of the Creative Kernow team or through support from one of our core programmes. My pledge is that by this time next year we will have made space for the achievements of creatives from an even more diverse talent pool – demonstrating that a small amount of reflection can lead to positive action.