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Harassment survey: 80% of theatres update policies in light of #MeToo

The #metoo campaign has helped bring sexual harassment in the industry into the open. Photo: Shutterstock A year on from the emergence of the #MeToo campaign, the impact upon the theatre industry is clear, with eight in 10 surveyed having updated their harassment procedures. Photo: Shutterstock
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More than 80% of theatre organisations polled by The Stage have updated their procedures relating to harassment and bullying in the past 12 months.

A year to the day since the #MeToo movement emerged following allegations against Harvey Weinstein, the theatre industry is facing fresh calls to embed a zero-tolerance stance on inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.

New research by The Stage found that:

  • 84% of responding organisations have made changes to their policies and procedures concerning harassment and bullying over the past year.
  • 78% of respondents said the number of grievances reported had neither increased nor decreased over the past 12 months.
  • Just over half (52%) of respondents have a dedicated member of staff in place for human resources.

Of the 84% that reported having made changes, these included updating or rewording existing policies, as well as implementing clauses and charters.

Sharing a code of behaviour at the beginning of each production, carrying out additional staff training and introducing a whistle-blowing service were also among the measures respondents said they had introduced over the past year to tackle harassment, which has been identified as an urgent challenge for the industry.

A study conducted by The Stage and published in January exposed the prevalence of harassment and bullying in theatre, with more than 40% of industry professionals saying they had been bullied and one in three experiencing sexual harassment.

Exclusive: Study reveals extent of harassment in theatre

The Stage’s new research heard anonymously from 82 theatre organisations, of varying sizes, which submitted data on their experiences in the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.

Large organisations – those with more than 50 staff – made up 54% of total respondents, with the second biggest group being those with fewer than 10 employees.

Respondents included some of the UK’s largest subsidised and not-for-profit theatres, as well as leading commercial producers and companies.

While the vast majority said they had updated their organisational policy, 16% had not. Among the reasons given were that these companies felt their policies were already “adequate” or “robust”. Some small organisations said they felt detailed procedures were not necessary because of their size, or that they discussed what action to take on a per-production basis.

Elsewhere, the survey indicates that the large proportion of companies updating their policies has not translated into an increase in the reporting of inappropriate behaviour.

More than three-quarters (78%) of respondents said the number of grievances about harassment and bullying reported in the past year was the same as that of the previous 12 months.

The organisations that had seen an increase represented 11% of respondents, with a further 11% claiming the number of reported incidents had fallen.

BECTU’s assistant national secretary Helen Ryan described the number of organisations updating their policies as “very encouraging”, but said: “The more publicity, and regular publicity, employers can give to a zero-tolerance stance in this area the better.”

She also called for more investment in staff training around harassment and bullying.

Referring to the standstill level of reporting indicated by the research, Ryan said this tallied with BECTU’s experience in the past year, and asserted that it was “hard to say whether increased awareness is having a corrective effect”.

An Equity spokesman said that while the union believes individuals are still scared to report harassment and bullying, “policies and procedures are the first step in changing the culture of fear”.

“[The fear] can only be countered by collective action by the whole industry, and specifically through take-up of our safe spaces campaign, an affirmation which we expect would empower more victims and bystanders to confront inappropriate behaviour at the earliest opportunity,” he said.

Theatres also claimed the past year had ushered in a change in the conversations around harassment.

Chris Stafford, chief executive of Leicester’s Curve, argued that while most organisations had not noted an increase in reporting, “many theatres, like Curve, have seen a real shift for the better in how we talk about and address unacceptable behaviour in the workplace”.

Elsewhere, The Stage’s survey asked about HR staffing. Just under half of organisations (48%) said they did not have a member of staff who lists HR as a primary function of their job.

This increased within smaller organisations, with 68% of those with fewer than 50 employees saying they did not have a dedicated HR staff member.

Stafford said the industry must not become complacent, despite the progress being made, adding that a “dedicated HR function within theatres is crucial” to achieving the further change required.

“As an industry we should seek to address how we might better support the 48% of organisations who don’t currently have this invaluable role,” he said.

The poll also found that 74% of responding organisations were aware of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre’s Theatre Helpline, a free phone and email service which was set up earlier this year to support industry professionals with issues affecting their health and well-being.

A spokeswoman from the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre added: “It is encouraging to see from this survey that theatres are updating their policies and procedures, and that so many respondents are aware of the Theatre Helpline. We hope that this trend continues; any step towards making theatre workplaces more inclusive and supportive benefits everyone, whether on or off-stage.”

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