27 September 2023

The art of leadership: How Tasmania is showing the way

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Gina Fairley* says that in a national first, women hold the top jobs across three tiers of leadership within the Tasmanian arts sector.

The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) recently announced that it had appointed Brett Torossi (pictured) as Chair of its Board of Trustees.

It is the first time the position has been held by a woman in the Museum’s 174-year history.

What makes this appointment all the more significant is that Torossi joins TMAG Director, Janet Carding, and Elise Archer, Tasmania’s Minister for the Arts, to cement faith in the capacity of women to hold the top-drawer jobs.

Minister Archer told ArtsHub: “I would encourage any company to set aside gender bias and appoint any woman that would do the same to its respective board.”

Tasmania is the only State in Australia where leadership is filled by women across these roles — currently, and historically.

Furthermore, Tasmania’s Deputy Secretary of Cultural and Tourism Development, a key position with the Department for State Growth, is also held by a woman — Jacqui Allen.

“Women, who represent over half of our population, are consistently recognised as a group who experience inequality across a range of economic, social and professional spheres, especially leadership and decision-making,” continued Archer.

Her Government is committed to a target of 50 per cent representation of women across all Tasmanian Government boards and committees by July.

The cultural and creative industries sector injects around $179 million into the Tasmanian economy each year.

Last month, the Government, under Archer, committed a significant package of $2 million to support the local arts sector in the wake of COVID-19’s impact.

The Minister of Arts portfolio is held by women also in Queensland (Leeanne Enoch) and the Northern Territory (Lauren Moss).

Queensland was also quick off the mark to help artists during these trying times.

Does that suggest that women perhaps better recognise the social and healing benefits of the arts and are greater champions for empathy?

What does this leadership say about Tasmanian vision?

In the most recent Countess Report (published in 2019), data showed that 53 per cent of board appointments are held by women across visual arts organisations generally, while only 33 per cent are represented on State gallery boards.

It is a similar pattern, 36 per cent of directors or CEOs are women, with only 12.5 per cent holding these positions across State art museums.

Minister Archer told ArtsHub: “In recent years, there has been an increasing awareness of and focus on ‘unconscious bias’ when the opportunity arises to engage women in positions of leadership.”

“Unconscious gender bias is when leadership is viewed as a male-only domain and is often inherently entrenched in the culture of an organisation or business.”

“It lies at the heart of why men are disproportionately chosen ahead of women for leadership roles.”

“Changing this bias means changing cemented patterns of thought — for both men and women.”

Carding is among that statistic, along with Rhana Devenport of the Art Gallery of South Australia — the only women to currently hold directorships across Australian State art museums.

At the recent Trustees Meeting, Carding was returned to the position for another five-year term.

Carding said: “I think these appointments confirm that Tasmania should not be underestimated.”

“We are leading in so many ways — food, arts and culture, sustainability — and female leadership is just one more to add to the list.”

“I have been fortunate enough to work with women leaders throughout my whole career, so for me I don’t see women arts leaders as something novel.”

“I would like to get to the point where female gallery directors are so common that they are no longer remarked upon!”

Torossi added: “Tasmania has always been a little bit different.”

“We are a small and interesting community, and because we spend a lot of time on the edges there is not much middle ground, so that makes for wonderful creative tension in so many areas.”

Torossi makes the gentle point that women make really good leaders in every sector, not just the arts.

Advice to women struggling to push to that next level

“I meet too many women who tell me that they couldn’t imagine being a leader,” Cardiff said.

“My advice would be to imagine yourself in a leadership role, and then find a good mentor who can help you gain the skills you’ll need to get there.”

“I’d like to think I can speak from experience when I say that if you have the work ethic, the drive and the willingness to work constructively with others, you will achieve your ambitions,” Minister Archer said.

Carding added: “I don’t think that leadership skills are gender-specific.”

“To be a good leader in the arts, you need to be able to work collaboratively with others, including your own team, and community partners.”

“It’s important to create a vision and inspire others to follow it; to look at the big picture and also have an eye for detail, so you can imagine how an innovative project might come together.”

Minister Archer concluded: “Redressing gender imbalance in leadership and decision-making is about highlighting and capitalising on individual qualifications, expertise and competence.”

* Gina Fairley is ArtsHub’s National Visual Arts Editor. She tweets at @ginafairley.

This article first appeared at www.artshub.com.au.

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