Call the Midwife writer Heidi Thomas has claimed “equality at home” is as important as industry support for creatives with caring duties, revealing her actor husband took a two year career break so she could write the hit BBC series.
Her claims were backed by playwrights Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Chinonyerem Odimba, who also highlighted the “huge struggle” of juggling work and parenthood.
Speaking at the Writers’ Guild Awards earlier this month, Thomas said: “I would not be here today with that body of work if my husband [Stephen McGann] hadn’t, at a crucial point in my career, taken a two-year career break of his own to be at home with our son […] and raise him while I focused on my career.
“In our industry, as women, we are seeking equality, we are trying to make things better for women at work, but we aren’t going to get very far in terms of equality in the industry if we don’t have equality at home.”
Thomas told The Stage she believes the problem stems from the way writers’ work can be perceived as a “job you can fit around your kids and do at home”, noting the issue does not solely stem from a gender disparity.
She added that Call the Midwife “would not exist” had McGann, who plays Dr Turner in the series, not “put his life on hold to give [her] that chance”.
Lloyd Malcolm agreed it had been a “huge struggle” to fit writing around childcare, arguing that women writers are particularly affected because “society still subscribes to traditional family models” of women being primary caregivers.
“I feel really lucky and privileged to have a partner who supports me – he has a normal job and has been able to provide the baseline money to pay our rent and bills. But because of that, his job has always been the priority. In terms of childcare I have always been the first point of call for any issues,” she said.
She added: “We have to keep talking and make sure there are support systems for people who don’t have partners and family otherwise we will lose really important voices because they don’t have money backing them, and we then become an elite industry, and that’s really worrying.”
Odimba said when she started writing as a single working parent it felt “impossible” to network with other theatremakers when she had to return to relieve a babysitter.
“I wrote at night, a habit that has taken years to break, and at weekends. I attended workshops only when they were in my city and coincided with weekends with her dad, and seeing work in theatres cost me twice as much when the cost of childcare is included,” Odimba said.
President of the Writers Guild’ of Great Britain Olivia Hetreed argued it is still the case in society that “women overwhelmingly make the career sacrifices necessary to accommodate children” while men are “not even questioned about their responsibilities in this regard”.
Hetreed told The Stage: “Until we make the larger social adjustment to general equality, women with children will continue to struggle to have their voices heard – and perversely this silencing must surely be contributing to the persistence of the problem.”
Cassie Raine, co-founder of campaign organisation Parents in the Performing Arts, said while home working can provide greater flexibility for caregivers, it also means the boundaries between work and family can “become blurred”.
“With the right support and guidance, however, [home working] can be beneficial for many,” she said.
“PiPA welcomes the increasing momentum within the sector to develop positive attitudes and practices to empower all parents and those with other caring responsibilities to take an equal lead at home and work, on and behind our stages and screens.”