Flexing Your Talent

Liz by the beach

Liz Johnson, Consultancy Manager for the National Trust reflects on flexible working practices in museums, and explores how we can move current policy into meaningful practice.

I believe in the mutual value of flexible working for the employee and the employer. Flexible working is for anyone, and is defined as a working pattern which suits the needs of the employee. You can find out more about it at www.direct.gov.uk/flexibleworking

In November 2017 I chaired a session on flexible working in the museum and heritage sector at the MA conference. It all went very well, good discussions and engagement and so forth. But the funny thing was that there had been a session on it the year before too and not much had changed in the time between.  So a group of us decided to see what we could do. How could we make flexible working the norm in museums?

I’ve changed jobs in the last year. I’ve gone from working in a policy organisation (Arts Council England) to a practical, operational and charitable organisation (National Trust). There are many parallels for me – no longer thinking one step removed from the delivery of art and culture, but getting stuck right in to doing it. Or stop talking, start doing. I wrote another blog about what it was like to change jobs and try to have a flexible working life.

So why this blog and why now?  Part of our campaign, Flexing Your Talent #flexingtalent is about sharing stories of practical examples with people, about encouraging people to talk about the benefits of flexible working and asking for input: what would help make this a reality?  It’s national Flexible Working Week 26 March- 1 April 2018 so you’ll see me and others on Twitter talking about it.

Flexible working matters to me on a number of levels. It matters personally because it helps me keep different parts if my life in balance: family life, work life, my house renovations, I could go on… I’m learning, painfully slowly, that keeping those things in balance is really important for my mental and physical health. And when all of those things are in place, I’m able to deliver my best in all of those different contexts.

It matters to me as a principle of equality, of fairness. I’m lucky to be able to use my talents in a varied and interesting role which suits my training, experience and skills. I can only do that because I work for an organization that supports flexible working and I had the confidence to broker it when I got this new job. But how many organisations are not open to flexible working? How many talented people feel restricted in their choices of where to work?

And it matters to me because I think museums are missing out on great talent- which would be good for them, good for our audiences and good for business.  Half of my team members have flexible working arrangements and our levels of creativity are greater because they can work with us.

The Mendoza Review of Museums (Nov 2017) states that ‘There are two pressing issues regarding workforce: the need to diversify in order to help attract more diverse audiences, and the need for excellent leaders with the right skills to guide museums… Diversifying the museums workforce is important both in terms of creating equality of opportunity and also in making museums more relevant to their community and to modern society in general. A diverse workforce helps attract larger and more diverse audiences by generating more creative and inclusive programming.’ [page 57-58]

Looking back, there are many ways to address this, and there have been many ways by which organisations, sector bodies, programmes and schemes have tried to affect change – but this change has been slow.  Now is the time to think of other ways that can work alongside traineeships, volunteering, and other targeted programmes to support people coming into the sector, remaining in the sector and also progressing within the sector.

Looking forward and focussing on flexible working, making it more of a reality for the sector rather than an aspiration, moving it away from a policy and into practice, can make a significant difference to representation in all aspects of our sector and the lives of our workforce.  We’re starting this #Flexingtalent campaign by having conversations, providing space to share experiences, opportunities to develop skills, and learn from others.

If you’re interested get in touch @lizmuseums