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Gender equality in theatre impossible without quotas, report claims

Large theatres are now required to publish their gender pay gap figures. Photo: Shutterstock The Fawcett Society has analysed gender equality data from a range of sectors in the UK, including theatre. Photo: Shutterstock
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Gender inequality in the arts can only be solved with “direct intervention” such as quotas, leading campaigners have claimed.

Women’s rights organisation the Fawcett Society has also argued that theatres and other cultural organisations should be publicly funded only if they are proactively pursuing targets to improve gender representation.

These are the conclusions of the Fawcett Society’s most recent report, the latest in its Sex and Power series, which analyses gender equality data from a range of sectors in the UK, including theatre.

Drawing on statistics from arts data experts Purple Seven, the report claims that in 2012 to 2014, 39% of casts were female, as were 28% of playwrights and 36% of directors. This is despite the fact that 65% of theatre audiences are women.

Women ‘edge towards equality in theatre’

In comparison, 32% of MPs, 18% of police and crime commissioners, 26% of university vice chancellors and just 6% of FTSE 100 chief executives are female.

The Fawcett Society said the theatre industry’s make-up is “some way from equality”, and that it viewed the cast for quotas as strong.

“The discrimination, harassment and structural barriers that women face are too prevalent to be overcome without a direct intervention of this kind. Some resist quotas, preferring targets. Whatever the mechanism, if we want to achieve the step change in progress that we need it is clear that we simply have to make it happen,” it said.

The industry has historically held differing views on quotas. Actor Adrian Lester, director Michael Buffong and critic Lyn Gardner are among those who have suggested that they are a useful way of bringing about change and send a signal about an organisation’s seriousness of approach. Meanwhile, others – including Bridge Theatre artistic director Nicholas Hytner and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Gregory Doran – have ruled out using them at their theatres, arguing they do not offer enough flexibility.

Elsewhere, the Fawcett Society report argued that across the board, senior roles should be made flexible by default, unless there was a good business reason not to, and more roles should be made available on a part-time or job-share basis.

Its conclusions also stated that arts funding should be tied to “a proactive policy of equal gender representation” in the arts that specifically aim at redressing the balance and set a target of gender parity.

This follows similar calls by the industry. Last month, director Phyllida Lloyd called on Arts Council England to stop funding theatre companies that do not commit to gender equality, demanding that all publicly funded organisations display “50:50 employment of men and women on stage, off stage and in the boardroom”.

Arts Council England declined to comment on the report.

Read the report in full here.

Arts equality campaigners’ views on quotas

Stephanie Street
Actor and co-founder of the Act for Change project

Since the first Act for Change event, I’ve believed that quotas are the only way to redress imbalances in representation within the arts (and indeed any sector).

The argument that quotas somehow stifle creativity has never held any logic to me. Firstly because it implies a kind of mealy-mouthed slight to the people being supported by the quotas – like they’ll be employed only because they are women and not because they are any good. This is deeply insulting to the thousands of extraordinarily talented, under-employed women out there who don’t work simply because the parts aren’t there for them in the plays being programmed and the systems aren’t in place to support them to work alongside their caring responsibilities.

It’s also frankly insulting to groups or companies that work only with certain communities. No one has ever accused Propeller or Graeae (who define their work as being only with artists of a specific demographic) of falling short on creativity. The real problem is that buildings and companies cannot see beyond The Way We’ve Always Done Things – ways entirely structured and designed by and for a predominately male workforce.

The only way the landscape of the arts will shift to truly reflect the society we live in, a country which at last count was over 51% female, is if structural, systemic change is implemented. And that change necessarily involves quotas or it will just never happen.

Polly Kemp
Actor and co-founder of Equal Representation for Actresses

Women make up 51% of the UK’s population, and they deserve to see themselves represented on stage and screen in the numbers, and in the variety of personal and professional realities, of their lived experience. That’s why we fight for 50:50 gender quotas across seasons of programming in publicly-funded theatres, and across the major broadcasters’ annual drama and comedy slates.

However, quotas are complex beasts. We don’t believe they always work on a more granular level, for example, per production rather than across a season, and they are trickier in TV where many programmes are made by independent production companies. Quotas are only one piece of the puzzle – we need more holistic tools and educational strategies as well if we are to achieve an entertainment industry that more accurately reflects the realities of its audiences.

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