I went to the ballet a couple of months ago and saw the Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake with my favourite dancer Carlos Acosta, hoping to be inspired to write this blog and I was not disappointed. The Royal Ballet Company is a very diverse ballet company and is one of the leading ballet companies in the world. So, imagine my surprise, when I realise all the white swans are not only white in costume, but also in race? Where is the diversity that I know the company poses? Was this a casting and design decision? And if so, why? And if a leading company can make this kind of decision then what does this say about leadership within the organisation?
I don’t want to debate here whether diversity is good or bad – to me the answer is too obvious for that. But I would like to question what does this say with how we interact with diversity and perceive diversity? In the entertainment industry, people are cast to fit a particular role. However long ago as a community it was decided that colour and race did not necessarily need to be dictated by the role and hence Shakespeare is performed in a diverse array of methods, colour and race, along with many other “traditional” plays and genres. So why did the Royal Ballet decide to cast all the white swans with white dancers – surely as an audience member we would still know they are a white swan based on the costume? So is this due to audience expectation of what a white swan looks like? Is this for the uniformity of the corpe de ballet? Or is it just by coincidence. And if so, what does this say in regards to how leaders play into the perception of the expectation of the audience?
For decades now there has been a huge debate and questions raised about the diversity of Boards and Directors within Organisations. What does this say about that? The Royal Ballet is a leading organisation in the dance world…do we all not look for role models to show the behaviours and values that we all believe? What is this then role modelling and how are we meant to follow?
In organisations and across the HR community we talk about how we can create more diverse Boards, Directors and workforce, but are we really looking for these answers? Or are we pretending to look for these answers because that is what we are “suppose” to do? If we really want diversity, then surely the answer is to simply “cast” diversity into these roles. And if the answer really is that simple then we just need to make sure that a diverse “cast” is called to audition. And if that is the case, then surely it needed to make sure the organisation is attractive and the role attractive to a diverse “cast”. This may mean, dare I say it, a more FLEXIBLE way of casting – job shares, flexible environments, holistic leadership…all of these things create diversity – we know this, this is not new news. So what is stopping us achieving real diversity and accepting and thinking in a diverse way?