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Adelaide Fringe - the strategy of hiring a diverse and collaborative workforce

The past two years have presented some of the most intense and challenging conditions the arts sector has ever faced. The disruption of lockdowns, border restrictions, and limits on public gatherings have required incredible flexibility from arts organisations and the people who work for them. The lessons learned can provide ideas and inspiration for employers in other sectors.

We caught up with Jo O’Callaghan from Adelaide Fringe and Michelle Christie from Robert Walters (an Adelaide Fringe partner) to chat about the qualities that organisations need during times of uncertainty – and how to identify those qualities during the recruitment process.

Robert Walters: During the pandemic, what have been the most noticeable changes about your teams and your approach to working with them?

Jo O’Callaghan: It’s been incredible how everyone's helping each other out more. We could not have survived without the amazing support and collaboration among our supporters, staff, artists, and partners. I genuinely believe that we are only as strong as the collective community that we work in and it's been remarkable to watch the people around us show such generosity.

Michelle Christie: In the arts – and across all the industries we operate in – we’ve certainly noticed managers taking a more ‘human approach’ to leadership. Employers have had to show more empathy and trust in their people. Everyone’s been through so much that I think it’s made employers and colleagues really pull together and lean on each other more.


RW: The arts sector has certainly been an exemplar when it comes to collaboration recently. What does that look like within an organisation such as Adelaide Fringe?

JOC: Above all, I think collaboration it’s about listening. At the Adelaide fringe, we need people who can consult internally and externally. Our focus is much less about ‘What I want’ or ‘What I think’ and more about the people we service and what they want and need. How can we support them? And how have we asked them?

No matter what position you have in the hierarchy of our organisation, everyone's opinion is worthy at the table when we're solving a problem. You’ve got to listen to everyone from a trainee to a CEO. Everyone comes together to solve a problem, and everyone is equal.


RW: As an employer, how can you gauge whether or not a prospective employee is likely to be a good listener?

MC: A way that I would test good listeners during the recruitment process is to really specifically ask questions that have some level of complexity to them. What you're actually requiring of the person that you're interviewing is for them to listen carefully. If they've listened, they can articulate a specific answer that addresses your question.


RW: What are some other qualities you look for in potential employees and again, how can you identify those during the selection process?

JOC: At Adelaide Fringe, we have five key values: Creative, collaborative, passionate, adaptive, and persistent. Those are all qualities that we encourage in our people. So, one of the things we assess throughout job interviews is how the candidate does or does not align with those values.

From there we go to our manifesto which talks about being brave, both as artists and audiences. We’re seeking people who are willing to step outside their comfort zone and have courageous conversations. So, I'm looking for candidates who will be brave, and who will have independent thoughts.

MC: To assess a candidate’s bravery, you can ask them questions that reveal their personality traits. During a job interview, people will be comfortable giving you really good answers about the times in their career when the results were fantastic and everything turned out fine. But a good measure of bravery is when they tell you about a time where things went wrong. Are they willing to share that with you? If they are, I think that’s someone you want on your team.


RW: You’re both extremely passionate about diversity and inclusion within the workforce. Why is that so important and do you have any other advice for other employers?

JOC: If you’ve got a team of people that all have a different perspective and all have a different lived experience in their life, then you've got a really well-rounded decision-making capacity as an organisation and the ability to better attract wider talent pools and audiences.

MC: I think attracting diversity is the easy part in so far as it’s pretty simple to write inclusive job adverts etc. The hard part in my opinion is creating an inclusive organisational culture. There needs to be training and development for leaders to develop their capability to manage a diverse workforce.

Image: WERK IT. Photo: Rebekah Ryan, Adelaide Fringe 2021

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