Bullying and harassment rife in the creative industries, survey finds

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More than half of theatre professionals - including backstage staff, performers and creatives - have been bullied, harassed or discriminated against in the workplace, with women more likely than men to be the victim of abuse.

These findings come from a survey, Creating Without Conflict, compiled by the Federation of Entertainment Unions, which includes Equity, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, the Musicians’ Union, BECTU and the National Union of Journalists. Its aim was to assess how widespread bullying, harassment and discrimination is in the entertainment and media industries, with more than 4,000 people from across the different unions taking part. Respondents included household names and top screenwriters, as well as people at the beginning of their careers.

Of those respondents who said they worked in theatre, 56% said they had directly experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination, and half said they had witnessed others being subjected to such behaviour. The survey found that 58% of women working in theatre had been bullied, compared with 52% of men. The one transgender respondent working full-time in theatre had also been bullied.

The survey also found that 45% of theatre workers considered age to be a factor “in the unreasonable treatment towards them”, and only 35% reported their experience. The report said this could be explained by the fact that two thirds of theatre respondents were freelance and were keen to avoid jeopardising future work.

Equity General Secretary Christine Payne said: “We often hear excuses that the demands of creating art and entertainment are such that a difficult and sometimes unsafe working environment is necessary. This is simply not the case. We do not believe working people should be made to suffer for their art and we need to draw a line in the sand. On one side is good management, motivation and leadership and on the other is harassment, bullying and abuse.”

Overall, the survey found that 56% of respondents – across all sectors – had been bullied, harassed or discriminated against at work. Some 52% said they had witnessed others being treated that way. The report found that women (64%) were more vulnerable to bullying and discrimination than men (49%) and 81% of women reported gender to be a factor in the victimisation they experienced.

The survey found that managers were the main perpetrators of bullying and harassment. Half also identified colleagues, such as co-workers or fellow performers.

The Creating Without Conflict report found that the “intimate working environments of certain sectors of the entertainment and media industries, especially theatre, provide a greater opportunity for physical and sexual harassment”. The report also found that excuses were often made for talent.

“These are individuals, in front and behind the camera, front stage and back stage, who believe they are ‘untouchable because of their status and therefore are seen as valuable to the company,” it claimed.

In television, 70% of those respondents who indicated they worked in that industry had personal experience of being bullied, harassed or discriminated against and 67% had witnessed others subjected to it. In television, however, the responses indicate that men and women are bullied in equal measure.

The report found that 73% of those working in radio have experienced poor treatment.

Of the survey’s respondents working in the live music industry, 40% had experienced ill-treatment, and 74% said this had come largely from co-workers.

The survey found that just a third of all the respondents who experienced ill-treatment reported it, with Creating Without Conflict claiming “the industries are not a comfortable place in which to complain”.

It also found that other triggers for abuse, alongside age, were pregnancy or childcare issues, the “overwhelmingly male-dominated culture of many sectors”, race, sexuality and disability.

Arts consultant Anne-Marie Quigg, who penned the 2011 report Bullying in the Arts, described Creating Without Conflict’s findings as painting a “dreadful picture” of the sector that encompasses the arts, media and entertainment.

“Ill treatment is rife, women are shown to be particularly vulnerable and harassment due to sexuality is common. The prevalence of workplace bullying is not merely as bad as it was 10 years ago, it is much, much worse, and it affects people at every stage of their careers and in a wide variety of workplaces,” she said, adding: “The time has come for bodies such as Arts Council England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to join the trades unions in taking workplace bullying in the cultural sector seriously and to initiate action to stamp it out.”

The report has now recommended better training be provided for workers and management to “raise awareness of definitions of unreasonable behaviour” as well as “improved policies and procedures for reporting it”. It has also recommended more campaigns aimed at encouraging the disclosure of bullying and the formation of a confidential hotline for freelance and employed workers to report complaints.