I enjoy looking at job adverts. When I had just graduated from University I used to play ‘what job will I apply for?” because it felt at that time that I had many directions I could take my career. I would look at jobs which I thought I could do and also look at jobs which were beyond my abilities, because I wanted to see what skills I would need to progress, to work my way up and smash that glass ceiling.
As the years have gone by I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing organisations. To begin with, I was always employed. At one point I was employed on a 2-year contract to deliver arts projects in the Highlands. Looking back I think that was probably the last time I was in full-time employment. Oh, the security and certainty of a monthly salary, sick days and, something the next generation might literally not know the meaning of, a pension.
As that contract came to an end and the projects started to wrap up I started to think about what I would do next and it was at this point that I was approached by the Director of a Production agency. She needed someone freelance to work with her on the expanding organisation and I was looking for a new opportunity, to learn new skills and expand my network. While working with her I learned a lot about being a freelancer. Over time, more and more of my work has been freelance contracts, usually as a result of project funding for organisations. It feels in this day and age that the chances of being employed and working in the cultural sector are becoming slim, with many organisations side-stepping employers responsibilities with contract work.
I’ve been really lucky - working in the arts can be really challenging when work is project or commission based. Usually, I’ve had a part-time employed job alongside my freelance projects. That way I had peace of mind knowing how much I was earning each month as a minimum and could take or leave projects depending on my workload. As time has gone on though I have found myself more busy with freelance work, currently find myself at the end of a year-long Fellowship and in a funded research period. It’s a fortunate breathing space.
But it’s not employment and it’s short-term so naturally, I’m thinking about the future.
I’d quite like a new job. I’m ready for some new challenges, I want to learn again and expand that network. I want to explore what else is on offer. I’m curious.
So I look at jobs. There are some amazing jobs in the cultural and creative sector just now. Innovative, challenging, exciting roles which require leaders to disrupt and diversify ways of working.
I could have wept when I looked at three senior cultural roles which are so traditional and conforming in their approach. In a sector that cries out for creativity and innovation, why are we creating barriers with standard job application forms? Does it really matter what I got for my Standard Grades 24 years ago? How can I demonstrate in a chronological employment table that I was managing several freelance projects alongside my own enterprise over the course of the last 7 years? I’ve been honing my C.V for years to demonstrate my versatility and skills. I’ll happily send you a covering letter to demonstrate how I meet the specifications and what I can bring to the role.
Does a traditional, basic job application give them the space to be creative and demonstrate their true talents? I realise that for some employers, completing the application form is part of the process - can they follow instructions and shape their answers appropriately. I’ve been completing funding application forms and post-project reporting for years. I’m already pretty good at filling out forms. I know my way around a spreadsheet too.
In a sector dominated by women every potential cultural and creative employer should be aware of the statistic from a Hewlett Packard internal report - men will apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the qualifications, women will apply if they meet 100% of the qualifications. As a woman, who is extremely qualified and experienced, if I can’t even fit my qualifications into your form then I already feel like a failure.
As a sector, we need to stop putting up barriers for creativity and professionalism. I may have been freelance for many years but this has enriched my experience and expertise. I have worked across multiple sectors, worked geographically across Scotland, I have programmed and managed a diverse range of festivals, events and workshops across our communities and society. I have trained, travelled, stretched and searched for ways to make the creative and cultural sector stronger, emboldened and heard. I would be an outright asset to any organisation that would be lucky enough to work with me.
For me, this is the difference. I want to work with you. Not for you. I want to make your organisation the best it can be, to enable a shared vision. A job in the cultural sector is about a creative partnership. Forcing us to reduce our talents and skills to standard boxes limits us. I for one will not apply for any creative job that puts limits and barriers on me or others.
Columns published here are the authors own opinions.