Diversity : How lack of representation is harming the arts and cultural sector


With Margarida Garcia and Charlie Wall-Andrews



The guest in this episode is Charlie Wall-Andrews, 2020 Scholar, a lecturer at the University of Toronto and Northwestern University, serving on the Board of Directors of WorkInCulture and Telus Community Investment Board, and the inaugural Vice-Chair of Music Canada's Advisory Council. Charlie Wall-Andrews shares her thoughts and research about the inequities in the music industry. She talks about the importance of public policies supporting grassroots organizations that are currently doing most of the work in EDI and are vulnerable in our post-pandemic society. She also makes a case for EDI being a necessity for all institutions, not just within the arts and culture, but across the board, both for better financial returns, to promote creativity, to ensure the wellbeing of its workforce, and to help them reach their full potential.





It is hard to underestimate the power and the potential of culture and cultural products in shaping our social world and the fabric of our own world use. And that is why it's so critically important to ask the question, how are our creative and cultural industries doing in regards to equity, diversity, and inclusion? My guest today has a strong commitment to this important inquiry and will help us see, why it's so important to take this question seriously.

I'm happy to welcome Charlie Wall-Andrews. She is dedicated to advancing inclusion and innovation in Canada's creative and cultural industries.

She's a PhD candidate at Ted Rogers School of Management, a research associate at the Diversity Institute, and a lecturer at the University of Toronto and Northwestern University. She has been recognized as a “Top 30 Under 30” by Corporate Knights and appointed a legacy fellow by the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation. Currently she's on the Board of Directors of WorkInCulture and Telus Community Investment Board, and is the inaugural Vice-Chair of Music Canada's Advisory Council. She's also an associate composer at the Canadian Music Centre. Charlie, welcome to Brave Spaces! I'm really happy to have you with us today.


Thank you so much. It's a delight to be here and have this conversation together.


Charlie, you are dedicated to advancing inclusion and innovation in Canada's creative and cultural industries. Tell us, how do you see this question from where you stand as a scholar, committed to public debate on fundamental questions around culture?


Of course. Well, culture is a necessity of any vibrant and robust society, and it's expressed in many ways. In terms of how we tell our stories, what we're seeing and witnessing online and in content, or different forms of culture, music, film, live performances, art.

These are ways in which we can celebrate and reflect on our past. It's also a great form of entertainment for ourselves, and it’s essential to have access to these cultural products, so that we can build a better world together. Our creative expression helps us to find who we are and it helps us see the world through the eyes of others.

And culture provides the lens to do that. One of the things I love is this notion of a music festival. When you go to a music festival, you'll see all sorts of people with different identities, enjoying the music, dancing and collaborating together in that creative space. And if we had that type of experience in all aspects of our society, we would then be able to allow for different ideas by different people. And to enable dramatic results, which are effective in building a more inclusive and innovative nation. And so, what is important to me, is how do we foster arts and culture within our societies and how do we learn from it to build a better world and other aspects of our world.


So, Charlie, you just spoke about the importance of encounter, of experience of sharing at a cultural event together. And how it allows for, you know, creating a space for a diversity of worldviews to share the same space. Now, do you think the cultural industry has that knowledge about itself, the importance of the impact that it creates? And how diverse and inclusive is or is not our cultural industry today?


It's an interesting question, because based on the experiences of the music industry, for instance, it's highly inequitable. We can see this from the lack of women in the role of music producers, which was cited in the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. They looked up the top 100 billboard hits from 2012 to 2018, and in that 600 songs sample only 2.1% of women were credited on the music as a producer. So that's one woman for every 47 men. And so, that calls the question, why aren't women involved in that part of the creative process?

And odds are, if you go look at some of your favorite artists on Spotify, and they have a song credit section, scroll down and look at the music producer, and you could start to see that an important phase of the music creation process is very much dominated by men.

And this is post-… pre- and post- vast social movements like #metoo.  We also see that there is a lack of representation in the music industry, particularly for black, indigenous, and racialized people, which has yet to become a major priority that needs to be called to question. We see, for instance, that black-made music is highly, highly, highly profitable. However, the representation of that community is not on par with that. And so, we need to call to question, how can we improve and build a better and more representative ecosystem for underserved and underrepresented communities?

And in my own research, looking at the arts and cultural sector in Canada, of the largest arts and cultural institutions, there is a lack of representation, especially for black, indigenous and racialized people in the leadership roles of Chair, CEO, and Artistic Director. And so, we need to call into question, how are these organizations ensuring EDI when representation is missing in some of the most powerful positions that drive change for these institutions?

So, to answer the question, there are cases where arts and culture is represented through diverse inclusion initiatives. And these are often grassroots organizations. But a lot of the power and a lot of the public funding goes to major, large institutions that have not reflected their true commitments to diversity at this scale.


Charlie, thank you so much for bringing that research and the numbers, they're staggering.

And I would like to hear you on this gap. So, EDI is more and more at the center of our thinking, our practices, our policies. But something is missing when we look at those numbers. So, what are our blind spots? How do you see this gap between, you know, the words and the policies that we are creating around equity, diversity, and inclusion, and then, you know, the reality of equity, diversity, and inclusion, when we look at those numbers?


Of course, and this is a bit of a, I don't want to say, a heavy loaded question. There's a lot that we can impact here. So, let me share a little bit of the tip of the iceberg from my perspective. We know that Canada is a very diverse nation. And it's important for organizations to foster EDI in order for them to reach their full potential.

And there are many studies that had proven that if Canada made workplaces more accessible and it's not even just restricted to arts and culture, but it would add 16.8 billion to our GDP by 2018. We also know from studies that companies with racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have greater financial returns.

In addition, we know that from a gender diversity perspective, companies that foster this are 15% more likely to also have financial returns. And if women, we're fully empowered to participate in the economy, we would contribute 150 billion to our GDP by 2026. And another step that I think is important, is that Canada is facing a labor shortage, and immigrants are going to account for 80% of the population.

So, the bottom line is that equity, diversity and inclusion is going to be a necessity for institutions. And it's not just within the arts and culture, it's across the board. And so, it's important that we factor how to build more inclusive practices within these institutions, so that people can come to the table and come to the organization, and put their best selves forward.

When we're talking about a lot of what I am mentioning, I do give sensitivity to that it is focused on the economics, and that is important to some degree, but we also have to look beyond the monetary gain. It's important that organizations foster working cultures, where everyone is empowered, and that the workforce truly embraces EDI. It cannot be performative. And this is to ensure the wellbeing of its community, of its staff. Otherwise, they might find themselves in a predictable surprise, which will be more damaging.

And some examples when… well, I guess I'll say is that when organizations can effectively foster EDI and we've seen case studies of, like, Xerox, for instance. Xerox was a company… if you actually look at some of the ads that they had portrayed many years ago. It was quite sexist, and they were portraying women as, “Oh, now I can take a lunch break, because this photocopier is going to help me save time.” And it was really unacceptable to be portraying women in such a role. And they ended up having a new CEO, who was a person that identified as black, and actually was a champion in creating a more inclusive, diverse culture. And pretty much all of Xerox efforts had been rooted in really fostering an equitable workplace, which has led for them to have a great success in terms of financial performance, but also building a culture where people are proud to work, and can put their best foot forward. And it’s a really great case study that other companies can look to, to see how EDI can have transformative implications on the work that they do.

If we truly foster EDI and overcome these blind spots, we can broaden the talent pool and overcome the skill gaps. We could respond increasingly to diverse markets, which also can gain support from diverse investors. A lot of what I argue is that fostering innovation and creativity stems from fostering EDI. We could also mitigate legal and reputational implications by fostering a more inclusive culture, but most of all, you increase employee satisfaction and you reduce the turnover rate for the organization, when people are truly embraced and fostered. And that we build a culture where EDI is at the core.

It's a lot easier said than done. And in many cases, we see a lot of performative action. And it's important that we have leaders in place to do the work, to lead by example, and to really empower community. And that's why I'm a huge advocate for representation, as is the literature and scholarship. So, I hope that provides some insights here, in terms of how we can address the blind spots and the benefits here of fostering it at the core of institutions.  There's so much more we can go into, but the bottom line is that it is a necessity and there's a lot of benefit in doing so, especially coming out of a pandemic.


You do shed a lot of light on this question, and what I hear from what you said is that these practices, these new ways of being, new actions around equity, diversity, and inclusion, well, there are a lot of arguments that you aligned together, so that we really embrace them.

You said it's more profitable, right? You also said it's also a human rights concern. It's about the dignity of human beings. It's because it's more fair, it's because it fully empowers everyone. We talked about adaptation. Like, we don't have the choice really, given our country that is so diverse. We talked about creativity, we talked about enhancing reputation, satisfaction, and happiness.

So many good reasons to do the right thing and go beyond performative EDI to really embrace a culture of meaningful EDI! And so, my question for you is, what are you seeing in the cultural industry or elsewhere, actually, that you see our current best practices that really produced impactful and positive, and concrete results around meaningfully including the marginalized voices?


Great question, and there are a lot of best practices, and it really depends on the scope and focus of the organization. Is it at the macro, mezzo and micro levels? But some ideas that come to mind here… representation. And so, we know that while a lack of representation is extremely harmful in itself, it often enables misrepresentation of underserved communities, which causes more significant issue, with damaging consequences.

And the media is a great example of how this has happened many times. This concept is evident through stereotyping, and it can even lead to the absence of curating art that attracts diverse populations. So, it's important to have representation throughout the company or organization at all levels, from… what we see in a lot of studies and from what I've observed is that the companies will say, “Yes, we're very diverse.” But then, when you look at their black, indigenous, and racialized people, they may not be at the leadership table of the organization. They may be on the more junior or the lower end of the organization. And it's important that we have gender and diverse representation throughout.

Another aspect that's becoming more practiced in the arts and cultural sector is this notion of decolonization. And so, the museum is a great example of this, where the approach to how they're curating exhibits started to change in around 2012, when anthropological museums began to decolonize. And this is a process that institutions undergo to basically expand perspectives. They portrayed beyond the dominant culture group, which is typically white Eurocentric. And so, this idea of decolonizing spaces through art has been very effective.

And of course, public engagement is about creating opportunities for audiences to interact physically… we could say, emotionally, spiritually, and even intellectually with the form, too. Go beyond just, you know, being an observer of the art, but also empowering audiences and the public to better appreciate and connect with the meaning and impact of the art experience.

And so, I think, there's a lot more we can say, but I feel like representation, practicing this notion of decolonization, and ensuring public engagement could lead to some great outcomes as part of best practices.


Now, Charlie, to end our conversation, I would like to invite you to an exercise in imagination. If we can imagine a future in which real culture of respect for diversity and inclusion is a reality in the cultural industry, what would that look like?


Yeah! It's important that we realize the power of arts and culture. Particularly, they are a powerful vehicle that shapes the world, and to give us the lens to see it from a different perspective. And that can be a useful exercise to understand and to better foster EDI principles, as we build a better world. In doing that, we're able to allow for more productivity to create and disseminate cultural products and creativity.

And thus, from an imaginative perspective, I realized that it's always the arts and cultural aspects that's cut in public school programs or public initiatives to the arts. It's quite vulnerable. And I think that we need to realize the value that the arts and cultural sector plays in building a more inclusive and robust society. And we need to ensure that public policies are put in place to protect and support them, so that they can truly reach their full potential.


I would say also, right, that the role of arts and culture in the wellbeing of populations. And I think we all could measure that importance during this pandemic crisis, right?

And at the same time, paradoxically, it was an industry that really suffered from the restrictions that were needed to deal with the crisis. So, any thoughts on that?


I think that in Canada, we're very privileged to have the support mechanisms that have been put in place during the pandemic for the creative industries and the cultural sector. There were recovery or sustainability grants, recovery grants, subsidies, and so that people can...  when we come back from the pandemic, into a more, I don't want to say normal, but a society, where we could interact with art more easily, or public engagement with the arts, is that those institutions will still exist, because of the support mechanisms we've had in place.

But now it's just such a different reality than what it was a couple years ago. And some organizations did not survive and others have. And I think that the way we support arts and culture moving forward will heavily depend on the public sector mechanisms for a little bit longer than what we had anticipated. And it's going to be organizations like the grassroots organizations that actually do a lot of curating that resonates with the ever-changing population and demographics of our country that are going to be more vulnerable, compared to the larger cultural institutions that are truly protected by the public policies in our country.

And so, I think that we need to find a way to ensure that those smaller organizations can be supported, so that they're resilient through the pandemic, and what's to come in the future.


Charlie, thank you so much for this conversation, where you really helped us see the importance, the crucial importance of the arts and the cultural industry to be a force for the authentic and meaningful integration of equity, diversity, and inclusion in our society.  It was a pleasure being in conversation with you. Thank you!


Thank you. It's my pleasure.