Six out of 10 female backstage workers have had to change jobs because of caring responsibilities, according to new research exposing the need for “deep cultural change” in the sector.
Conversely, The Backstage Workforce Report from Parents and Carers in Performing Arts finds that just two out of 10 men in backstage roles – including stage management, front of house, production and costume – had felt the need to change jobs because of their caring responsibilities.
The report highlights how challenging working backstage can be for women, but recognises the difficulties facing everyone working in the roles, while identifying significant problems faced by men with caring duties. It has found:
The survey was completed by more than 330 people, including 139 parents and carers. It was carried out in association with BECTU.
PIPA co-founder Cassie Raine said the findings highlighted the “need for a deep cultural change in backstage working practices that make it so hard for carers and parents, particularly women, to keep working despite their commitment and passion for the industry”.
All respondents highlighted challenges with working in backstage roles, including missing meal breaks (92%), change of call time with less than 12 hours’ notice (85%), and excessive overtime (68%).
According to the findings, 34% of respondents had experienced some flexibility within their departments. This included a flexible rota, variable hours and working from home (64%).
Those with caring responsibilities were asked how their caring duties had affected their work, with 53% stating they had turned down work or experienced less choice of work.
A quarter of respondents said they had raised concerns about their work-life balance, but it had not changed their situation – and 22% said they had not because they were worried it would impact their job. More people on freelance contracts were likely to feel this way.
When looking at challenges by gender, more men than women reported experiencing a lack of time and exhaustion due to the work-life balance conflict. More women than men cited childcare as an issue.
The report concludes that parents and carers, both men and women, “may be disproportionately affected in different ways, requiring a multifaceted approach to finding solutions”.
“Working conditions backstage have different, but equally challenging impacts on men and women,” it states.
The report’s recommendations include monitoring work demands, better channels of communication and improving work scheduling and flexibility, without which, it warns, “people may leave to find employment outside of the sector, meaning the industry loses experienced, committed talent”.
Raine said: “This is our opportunity to innovate, to dig deep and redefine the way we work backstage. A robust and well-supported workforce that is capable of sustaining a career at every stage of their lives is vital to future-proof the sector, in order to benefit from the talent, dedication and experience that is the backbone of our creative output.”
She added that the report “draws on research carried out before the current crisis, and shows the challenges faced by the backstage workforce, even when times are normal”.
“It is vital that these lessons in trusting and supporting staff and building up business resilience are not just applied in times of crisis, but that the sector recognises the valuable opportunity to take these learnings forwards and pave the way to redressing the stark conditions experienced by backstage workers, ready for when our doors reopen,” she said.
BECTU head Philippa Childs said the report showed the “theatre industry needs to catch up with rest of the working world”.