Our work to make cinema jobs fairer

Posted on August 12, 2021 by Duncan Carson

Categories: Cinema Careers, EDI

The last year has given us renewed focus on what kind of industry we are making and who has a chance to contribute. Our jobs board is free to access for both recruiters and job seekers and we think it’s a good use of this service to try and push for better jobs, better recruitment and better employment across the industry. We’ve recently published a new policy for this service which outlines the requirements for posting with us and provides some best practice recommendations for recruiters, which we hope will contribute to creating a fairer industry and help employers to find the best candidates. In this blog, the ICO’s Projects and Business Manager Duncan Carson discusses the thinking behind these changes.

Over the last year or so, we’ve been thinking a lot about recruitment. While trying to address our own biases and failures of representation on staff, we’ve been looking more closely at the way we recruit to see if this can reduce any bottlenecks or exclusions to the talent we’re able to access.

Part of this closer scrutiny on recruitment is a recognition that we’re serving a powerful role in the film exhibition and distribution industry when it comes to jobs. Our jobs board is the biggest source for recruitment in our part of the sector and it’s usually the first point of contact people have with the ICO. We’ve hosted thousands of job ads over the last fifteen years, we have over 5,000 subscribers to our daily jobs newsletter and receive 100,000 hits per year on our jobs pages. What we post on our service influences what is considered a ‘good job’ in film exhibition and independent distribution.

Despite many suggestions to monetise this service over the years, we’ve kept it free for recruiters and job seekers. That gives us a lot of flexibility about what we post on the service. And in recognising both the power of recruitment to change organisations and our own gatekeeping position, we’ve thought more about how we’ll use that influence.

Our new jobs board policy

Make no mistake: recruitment is just one moment where diversifying workforces goes right or very wrong. Retaining staff by centring their experience when in the job has a much bigger impact. There’s even a very established pattern where ecstatic recruitment of a ‘diverse’ hire quickly sours. So, we’re not kidding ourselves that changing recruitment is going to ‘solve’ diversity. Yet it’s not an irrelevant part of the process of change, and an equity of access to full time jobs has a major effect on who can stay working in film and have a significant voice.

So we’ve introduced a brand new policy for our jobs board. We were led by the inspiring work being done by Fair Museum Jobs, and have tried to offer some guidance that follows their thinking of ‘must’, ‘should’ and ‘recommended’. Looking at that first category, we’ve laid out some clear rules about what criteria you need to include to post a job with us. There are common practices in film (and beyond) that don’t help candidates or – in reality – recruiters. We’re not suggesting that organisations that don’t conform to these rules aren’t necessarily great places to work or care about their staff, but we want to use our platform to promote roles that meet these new baselines, to help reshape the way recruitment happens.

“An equity of access to full time jobs has a major effect on who can stay working in film and have a significant voice.”

To take one example, we now require all ads to feature a specific salary or salary range, so no more ‘salary dependent on experience’. We understand some of the reasons why recruiters do this: often you’re thinking of the different ways you could resource the role. Maybe you would offer a more inexperienced candidate a lower salary with a view to spending the resource on training? That’s all well and good, but for candidates it’s not great to not be sure if you’ll be able to meet your financial needs if you apply. This kind of ad privileges those who are financially independent, shifting the playing field of who can participate. It also serves to entrench existing pay gaps, since film is a field with wide salary ranges for performing the same job title and little disclosure of salaries. These new ‘musts’ for listing on our service all arise from similar thinking about how job ads shape who feels confident to enter and advance in the sector.

Secondly, we’ve released some broader guidance that we hope will be useful in reshaping your organisation’s processes, based on a lot of thinking, conferring with other organisations and research into best practice. Recruitment in the arts has some significant barriers to improving itself (many of which we’re struggling against ourselves). Firstly, independent cinemas and festivals are often operating without in-house HR professionals. Consequently, they are only in a position of considering recruitment when staring down the barrel of finding a new staff member, rather than proactively considering their processes. Recruitment is often done in a rush. Similarly, staff turnover is traditionally relatively low, so the level of experience with recruitment processes is consequently low relative to other industries, with fewer chances to tweak. If you’re recruiting all the time, you have a chance to evolve and adapt regularly, but if you recruit for specialised roles once every five years, it’s much less likely.

“We can all do more to expand this pool and unlock the talent that our recruitment practices are holding back or totally excluding.”

Arts roles often rely on a high level of institutional knowledge, sited in individuals. In that context, recruitment often prioritises overlap of staff so a handover can take place (meaning a shorter recruitment window) rather than having 100% confidence you recruited the right person. Finally, arts jobs can rely on the emotional pull of working in the field, so application numbers are often high, even if there are a lot of barriers in the recruitment process. Compare the level of thought that recruiters in tech fields put into their processes: applicants hold more of the power, so recruiters work harder to lay out the benefits and culture of their organisation and limit the amount of work in the early stages of recruitment. If they didn’t take this approach, applications would be low. The arts always has a ready supply of (mainly white, mainly middle class) arts degree graduates to apply for the roles that do surface. We can all do more to expand this pool and unlock the talent that our recruitment practices are holding back or totally excluding.

One principle we’ve been considering is how you confer the same care and respect on those who get the job as those who engage with any stage of the application process. Having a negative experience in recruitment can leave you feeling alienated from the organisation you applied to, but also questioning your right to be in the industry at all, a feeling that’s compounded if you’re from a group that’s been historically excluded. There are obvious adjustments that not only mean you’ll have a stronger, broader pool to draw on, but also an opportunity to express your values to a wide group of people. That starts with redistributing the weighting of preparation away from early application process and towards final selection. Reduce the number of people who feel like they ‘wasted their time’ approaching you, either because they spent an age jumping through the first application hoop or because they weren’t offered any feedback. There are many candidates who are not right for a role now but could be as their experience progresses. Alienating them now could cost you a real asset later. And on a practical level, applicants are often audiences, often your most engaged audience. Treating them with dignity keeps that connection alive.

“Having a negative experience in recruitment can leave you feeling alienated from the organisation you applied to, but also questioning your right to be in the industry at all, a feeling that’s compounded if you’re from a group that’s been historically excluded.”

Recruiters should be shifting the process of job application so the bias is towards what is comfortable and convenient for the applicant, rather than you and the organisation. One of the philosophies that we’d recommend is encouraging people to demonstrate the best version of themselves. How about a final interview that asks applicants to talk through a piece of work that they’re particularly proud of that relates to the core competencies of the role? This approach lets people prepare and shine, rather than retreat and second-guess.

Ultimately, recruitment can become a form of outreach if it is redeveloped, a means to humanise your organisation (how about a recruitment video with someone on the panel explaining the role?) and make connections with groups that might feel that the job is ‘not for them’ (how about holding a series of meetings with candidates who want to hear from someone within the organisation about what working there is like?).

This set of guidelines is really only the start of a real conversation about the working practices within film. We expect there are things that job seekers have experienced that we haven’t covered; we also expect recruiters to have questions or suggestions. What we’ve produced is a living document and we’d really appreciate collaboration. So, get in touch and let’s make better, fairer jobs and find the best people for them.

Our jobs board policy is a living document that we will revisit regularly and we welcome comment on what works for job seekers and recruiters. Please email duncan.carson@independentcinemaoffice.org.uk if there’s anything you think we could add or improvements to be made or if you feel that a job we’ve listed doesn’t fit our standards.

We are grateful to Fair Museum Jobs for their guidance in this area. If you would like to read more about some of the thinking behind our new policies, their manifesto is a great place to start. You can also watch our discussion with them from our Young Audiences Screening Days event in June 2021, where they outlined some common recruitment practices that exclude great candidates from accessing cinema roles and discussed best practice that delivers real change.

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