Nicholas Serota has rejected claims that Arts Council England’s new 10-year strategy neglects gender equality.
The Arts Council chair has responded to a group of leading women in theatre, who criticised the document, by arguing that “there is no disregard for women artists” within ACE and that the body is “wholly committed” to equality.
In a letter sent earlier this month, the group, which includes Equity president Maureen Beattie and ERA 50:50 founder Polly Kemp, accused the Arts Council of ignoring female inequality in the strategy that sets out ACE’s priorities for the next decade.
The collective, known as the December Group, said they felt misled by the Arts Council after Serota assured them that gender parity would be seriously considered in the strategy. The December Group claimed that the ensuing document “barely mentions women” and displays “serious disregard” for gender equality.
Serota’s response acknowledges that there is “much more work still to do to tackle the discrimination women face in theatre”, and stresses that national portfolio organisations are expected to work towards gender parity in their staff, leadership and work.
However, his letter also argues that the strategy’s focus on D/deaf, disabled and minority ethnic representation reflect a systemic failing in these areas, while women are, on average, well represented among the workforce.
“The data shows women are more equally represented across the workforce, although it does not show equality has been achieved. The way Let’s Create is written is intended to reflect those findings,” he said.
The December Group’s original letter invited the Arts Council to attend Sphinx Theatre’s Women in Theatre forum taking place in London next week. Serota confirmed that senior ACE staff members would be in attendance.
Thank you for this message and information from the report you commissioned regarding gender representation and our new 10-year strategy Let’s Create. I would like to assure you that there is no disregard for women artists and that we are wholly committed to achieving equality and inclusion for people from all protected characteristics within the cultural sector. We know there is much more work still to do to tackle the discrimination women face in theatre.
Let’s Create draws on data and evidence from various sources, including our own annual Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case Reports. In our view those reports show systemic under-representation of D/deaf and disabled people and those from black and minority ethnic and lower socio-economic backgrounds, across the sector.
In the case of women the evidence tells a different story. The data shows women are more equally represented across the workforce, although it does not show equality has been achieved. The way Let’s Create is written is intended to reflect those findings.
We have just published our latest Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case report. You will see that in 2018-09, female representation in the total workforce of our national portfolio organisations is 47% and male representation is 33%, with levels of ‘not known’ at 15%. Looking specifically at our theatre NPOs, 49% of the total workforce is female, 35% male and 13% not known.
However, we recognise that in particular parts of our NPO workforce and boards, there is under-representation of women. In music NPOs, for instance, only 32% of workers are female. In our Band 3 theatre NPOs, while 53% of chief executives are female, only 37% of artistic directors and 32% of chairs are female. Clearly this is not good enough.
When we publish our first Delivery Plan for Let’s Create in the late spring, we will make clear our requirement that the next cohort of NPOs (ie from April 1, 2022) must do more to ensure that they are more representative of contemporary England. That will include an expectation that our largest organisations will work towards gender parity in their workforce, leadership, boards and in the work that is commissioned.
Thank you for continuing to shine a spotlight on the important issue of gender parity. Thank you too for your invitation to attend the Women in Theatre Forum on February 25. I will not be able to attend myself but Michelle Dickson and Neil Darlison will attend on behalf of the Arts Council.
With best wishes,