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Equity: ‘We need to look beyond traditional workplaces to combat harassment’

Equity general secretary Christine Payne has warned that performers are in danger of being neglected in efforts to tackle workplace harassment due to the fact that many work outside traditional environments.

She was giving evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee’s parliamentary inquiry into sexual harassment at work, and said there was a risk that processes become “hooked” on solving issues associated with more traditional structures.

“There is a danger that we focus on traditional workplaces: theatres, film studios, television studios, things you are familiar with,” she said, adding that many Equity members worked in settings including social clubs, cruise ships and circuses as well as places such as shopping centres and public spaces.

“Perpetrators could be colleagues or managers, but also audience members. The variables in our industry are so wide,” she said, describing an industry in which there was a “culture of fear” around reporting inappropriate behaviour.

She continued: “The limitations at the moment are that there is an assumption that the employer will be in a standard workplace. When you get the disparate workplaces that our members are in, there needs to be more imagination and consideration of that, given that the spotlight has been very much on the entertainment industry.”

Payne went on to argue that many members were not on permanent contracts and faced constant insecurity about their future employment.

“Our members are doing their job while looking for their next job. [The victim might] move on and the perpetrator is still there, because [the victim] has not had the confidence to be able to properly report. That’s why the entertainment industry in itself is a variable that needs to be considered as well as considering more traditional workplaces,” she said.

Payne’s comments come as Equity publishes the initial findings from its own investigation into sexual harassment, ahead of a full report next month.

Titled The Agenda for Change, the document proposes guidance on how to make the industry safer [1], and covers areas such as the casting process, education, and venue policy.

In a survey of theatre professionals published by The Stage last week, more than 40% said they had encountered bullying at work, with one in three experiencing sexual harassment.

More than two thirds of respondents to the survey said they did not report their experiences of inappropriate behaviour.

Exclusive: Study reveals extent of harassment in theatre [2]