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Theatre employers blame gender pay gap on imbalance in technical departments

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A continuing shortage of women in technical positions has led to a lack of progress in narrowing theatre’s gender pay gap, according to employers.

The industry’s biggest companies – those employing more than 250 staff – are now required by government to reveal their gender pay gap on an annual basis.

Participating employers identified technical departments as the biggest driver of pay inequality between men and women in the sector, with many pledging to explore flexible working initiatives and offer better support to parents as a way of balancing the workforce.

Theatre employers are also reforming advertised job titles, implementing anonymous shortlists and diversifying interview panels in efforts to close the gender pay gap, following the second year of the government’s data reporting scheme, which revealed little change in the overall state of play in theatre.

Biggest theatre companies forced to disclose gender pay gap

Among the organisations forced to reveal their pay data are the Royal Opera House, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, as well as commercial theatre employers including Nimax, Delfont Mackintosh and Ambassador Theatre Group.

Statistics from the latest round of data (2018-19) show the gender pay gap remains broadly similar to the previous year, with a median hourly gap of 6.5% (compared to 7% in 2017/18). Those whose pay gap widened over the past year included Delfont Mackintosh, Leicester’s Curve and the National Theatre.

The median average of those reporting across all sectors is now around 9% and the national median is 18%, meaning many arts and entertainment employers report a smaller gap than other sectors.

However, 78% of the 43 arts companies providing data this year pay men more, slightly higher than last year’s 75%.

Gender pay gap 2018-19 – click here to see data in full

Several companies said the gender imbalance in production and technical roles play a crucial part in why male pay is higher. They said these roles have traditionally been dominated by men, who are often highly paid because they have maintained the roles over a long period of time. However, employers conceded more must be done to make these positions more accessible.

Among those arguing this is Rebecca Kane Burton, chief executive of LW Theatres, which voluntarily submitted its data this year, despite not being required to do so because it has fewer than 250 staff. It recorded a median pay gap of 23.3% in favour of men, the highest among the arts organisations monitored this year.

She said the company’s pay disparity was “heavily influenced” by the gender imbalance in technical roles, and said she felt it important that LW Theatres published its data to commit to making change.

She said she believed a shift in “business culture” was at the heart of progress in this area, and had begun introducing gender-neutral job titles for advertised technical roles in 2018.

This includes changing titles including chief electrician, master carpenter and dayman to more descriptive terms such as technical manager, senior technician and technician. Kane Burton said there had already been an uplift in the proportion of women applying since the changes were made.

She told The Stage: “It’s a mixture of common sense, proper labelling, being really clear about what you want and encouraging people to apply from a much broader base. If you want to break down any mystique that shrouds an industry, job titles and ways into an industry are one key, quite obvious, way of tackling that.”

LW Theatres is also working with Parents and Carers in Performing Arts to host staff discussion forums around flexible working and maternity and paternity leave.

In its pay gap report, Nimax Theatres said that while more women had been recruited into technical roles in recent years, “there remains much scope for improvement”, while the Royal Opera House said it now operates an anonymous application process for all jobs advertised online to encourage more women to apply for traditionally male roles.

This means that the panel shortlisting candidates will not see personal details until the interview stage. The ROH said it also planned to include both men and women on all interview panels.

The Southbank Centre said recruiting more women in production roles was “key to solving our gap”, but added that it was also trying to facilitate the progression of existing staff by giving junior employees additional training and mentoring. It added that 60% of the participants on this programme in 2018 were women.

Pay for female backstage staff at ENO brought in line with men for first time

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