Collective action for gender equality in theatre

Monday marked a major milestone on the road to gender equality in Irish culture with the publication of gender equality policies from ten leading theatre organisations (The Abbey Theatre, Cork Midsummer Festival, The Corn Exchange, Druid, The Everyman Theatre, Dublin Theatre Festival, Fishamble: The New Play Company, The Gate Theatre, The Lir Academy and Rough Magic).

On International Women’s Day 2016 I called on the theatre sector to achieve full gender equality by 2021. At the final public meeting of #WakingTheFeminists in November 2016, a working group of representatives from several theatre companies was established. The collective action of publishing their gender equality policies will go a long way to achieving the three original objectives of the #WakingTheFeminists campaign – policy, action plans and measurable results; equal championing of women, and equitable pay for everyone.

The campaign commissioned ground-breaking research led by Dr Brenda Donohue, Dr Tanya Dean and Dr Ciara O’Dowd, Gender Counts, which forms the baseline for measuring progress, and the organisations have committed to using that methodology. Already, theatre organisations have made significant progress since 2015, and other culture organisations have also taken up the challenge. A key part of their commitment, and ultimate success, will be learning from each other, and holding each other to account on an annual basis.

In 2017, the then Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht requested all National Cultural Institutions to have gender equality policies in place in this for this 100 year anniversary of women’s suffrage. Hopefully the NCI’s will follow the theatre sector in jointly making their policies public by the end of the year.

#WakingTheFeminists wanted not only to be a driver of change in the theatre sector, but also a catalyst for change in other sectors. By jointly publishing their policies it’s also the hope of the working group that other sectors take up this collaborative approach to achieving gender equality. While each company drew up its own policy in response to its own circumstances, there are several common threads including:

Gender equal boards

Gender equality as a board priority, and progress regularly reported at board meetings

Annual reporting of gender statistics of their programmes using common methodology
Introducing and improving dignity at work policies and practices

Commitment to achieving gender balanced programming over a five year period

Embedding principles of equality in mission statements and strategy
Recognition that gender is more than binary

As a parting gift in 2016, #WakingTheFeminists gave the companies a copy of Iris Bohnet’s book: What Works: Gender Equality by Design, an excellent account of an evidence based approach to achieving gender equality. It’s too soon to tell whether the sector will achieve full gender equality by 2021, but with this collective, transparent, and mutually accountable approach, informed by the best research available, the Irish theatre sector is well on its way.

Achieving gender equality requires leadership from the top and committed, consistent action from everyone. It’s not easy task, so there’s no room for complacency. One of the key areas to address is the gender pay gap. Updated research is required as Arts Council research from 2008 indicates that the gender pay gap for artists may be as high as 50%.

It’s also not enough to only have more women creatives, we also need to ensure there is a wider diversity of stories about women. Stories and storytellers shape our view of the world – with greater space for a variety of women’s stories, we will shift the historic imbalance of power in every sector.

The policies and more information is available here.