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Editor’s View: Quotas are a way to improve diversity fast

Roda Musa. Photo: Catherine Gerbrands

When diversity quotas were discussed 10 years ago, most people I spoke to – including those engaged in actively pursuing improved representation in the theatre sector – thought they were a bad idea.

I still do not know many people who think quotas are ideal. But, after decades of negligible progress without them, the tide has turned. Now, the consensus is that they are necessary in certain areas of our industry.

Top of the list is the training sector. There is a difference between using quotas in the training sector and in the workplace. Both may be necessary to create supply and demand, but if there is already workplace demand for an increased supply of diverse talent – which appears to be the message from employers – it seems common sense for the training sector to try to deliver this by any possible means.

Central principal Gavin Henderson faces calls to resign over diversity quotas remarks [1]

Quotas can work in a variety of ways, but an obvious successful example is the Rooney Rule in American Football. Since 2003, NFL teams have been obliged to interview at least one black or ethnic minority candidate for available head coaching and senior football operating opportunities. By the start of the 2006 season, the percentage of African-American coaches had climbed from 6% to 22%.

Quotas work, as does targeted recruitment.

In an example closer to home, The Stage has run two recruitment processes for a reporter internship recently. Both roles offered the London Living Wage for a three-month placement. Part of the thinking behind the internship was to encourage applicants from backgrounds that were under-represented at The Stage and in journalism more widely.

The first advert we ran was not targeted and we had zero black, Asian or minority ethnic applicants. The second was targeted at BAME applicants and attracted many applications for practically the same role. So we hired precisely the type of applicant we wanted to give this opportunity to [2]. They could have applied in the first round and still got the job, but they didn’t.

While forcing organisations to rethink their own assumptions about who they might recruit, quotas and targeted recruitment schemes also make people realise they are welcome in areas of the workforce or training sector from which they currently feel excluded.

Whatever Central decides to do about quotas, one thing it must take from recent protests and the Dear White Central movement is that a section of its student population feels the school should do much more to make itself welcoming to people of all backgrounds.