Equity has launched a stinging attack on Arts Council England’s diversity monitoring strategy, claiming the detail and transparency being provided is “not good enough”.
The union’s general secretary, Christine Payne, used her speech at the Annual Representative Conference to call out what she described as “hugely disappointing” monitoring reports provided by ACE.
Payne called for more detail in the analysis published by the Arts Council, and for it to honour its commitment to penalise companies that do not deliver on equality and diversity.
“The Arts Council have twice failed in their monitoring to show with any certainty, with any clarity, with any transparency, what we are seeing on our stages. We have challenged them and I am shocked to say that we wrote to them six weeks ago and we are yet to have a response. This is not good enough.
“Arts Council England and [former chair] Peter Bazalgette gave a commitment that if companies fail to meet those targets then funding could be affected. Are these measly words or are they meaningful commitments? We’ve yet to see that tested.”
Payne added that the industry was taking up time and money “stating the bleeding obvious”, and claimed that it was clear what action needed to be taken to improve the situation.
The union’s equality and diversity officer, Hamida Ali, told The Stage that she did not feel ACE’s diversity monitoring matched what was being done in broadcasting by Project Diamond.
“ACE are not delivering an equivalent picture of who is on stage. Are they collecting data via national portfolio organisations? Yes, but they are not delivering an equivalent picture. Given these barriers, that picture is really, really important,” she said.
Actors and stage managers attending the ARC also unanimously passed a motion pressing ACE to fulfil the commitment that diversity achievements would impact funding decisions, and make it clear within the national portfolio how diversity as considered.
Flip Webster, chair of the union’s women’s committee – which proposed the motion – said ACE’s latest diversity report did not deliver on what was promised.
“Yes there was data, the diversity percentage looked good, but that included everyone from administration and cleaners to actors and stage managers. The raw data was sent to our equalities officers on request, and unfortunately it was so raw it was indigestible,” she said.
“ACE-funded organisations have the power to change the culture, and they must make it equitable. [ACE chief executive] Darren Henley twice promised us that they were committed to improving representative on and off stage and would hold companies to account. Should we not get it then we will take further action.”
Webster went on to say that Equity itself needed to redouble its efforts to tackle gender inequality in the industry, and this must also be at the heart of ACE’s assessments regarding funding.
Maureen Hibbert, also from the women’s committee, added: “We say that gender should be at the top of the agenda. If you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem, meaning that if you don’t take direct action to make things better, you’re an obstacle to change.”
Responding to the complaints, ACE chief executive Darren Henley said: “We are surprised and disappointed by Equity’s attack on our diversity monitoring. We are sympathetic to Equity’s interest in capturing granular data for the theatre sector, and have offered to co-fund further research. The Association of British Orchestras are now working with us on such a collaboration for their sector. It is not practical for us to collect such granular data in our annual survey of organisations, which covers all art forms. We responded to Equity’s letter, which we received on 2 May, last week and we reiterated this offer remains open.
“We have been clear that we will hold companies to account in ensuring the work they do is relevant to the diverse communities they serve. We announce our new portfolio on 27 June. We have made it clear that any organisation whose application has been assessed as ‘not met’ against the Creative Case for Diversity will not have their place confirmed in the new portfolio until they strengthen their work in this area.”