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Editor’s View: In the wake of sexual harassment claims, theatre needs better HR support

More than 50 women have made allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Photo: Shutterstock/Sam Aronov
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Royal Court artistic director Vicky Featherstone deserves plaudits for her swift and emphatic response to the unfolding accusations of sexual harassment and abuse within the entertainment industry.

With allegations spreading to include former Royal Court and Out of Joint artistic director Max Stafford-Clark and former Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey, it’s clear that theatre needs to take swift, effective and proportional action to change the way it operates.

Featherstone’s proposed code of conduct is a good first step, and the speed with which she is looking to introduce the industry-wide guidelines is impressive, especially when compared to the response in some other industries. But this also serves to underline something she highlights in our front page story: “It’s across the whole of society and it’s really important to say that.”

This is not theatre’s problem alone. While it is crucial to look after our own house, we should be aware that other industries face similar – and sometimes worse – challenges. This context is important because it can also help us look for solutions.

One common feature that appears to link many of the industries facing abuse and harassment allegations is that they feature a high proportion of freelance workers.

During my research into the offstage workforce on behalf of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre earlier this year, poor HR practices and lack of HR support were regularly flagged up as an issue by respondents – especially by freelance workers. This tended to be in connection with lack of career progression, training needs or relatively minor workplace issues, but these structures are also intended to protect people from harassment.

In theatre, HR practices are often poor for those who are full-time employed, but if you are a freelance they are non-existent.

As designer Tom Piper observed in a blog about bullying in theatre this week: “In other work environments appraisals, HR and management structures can be referred to, but we freelance designers are largely on our own dealing with the conditions of our employment.”

This applies to many others working in theatre. If we are serious about addressing this issue, a sensible place to start might be introducing some form of industry-wide HR support for freelances, as well as ensuring employers have robust HR procedures in place.

Email your views to alistair@thestage.co.uk

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