We were privileged to be invited to hold a session at the Independent Theatre Council AGM last week. It was an inspiring and thought provoking day and what struck us most was just how hard people are working to encourage diversity, provide training and develop the Industry’s workforce in the long term. Childcare and caring issues were high up on many organisations agendas and it was encouraging to see how far PIPA’s work has already reached as the conversations are starting to happen. The event was inspiring and helpful as we continue to develop our thinking in this area. Below are some reflections we’d like to share with you:
It is primarily low to middle income families who are most affected by the exorbitant rate of childcare and the lack of flexible working contracts, particularly within the performing arts. The demographic and content of creative work has the potential to change radically if these barriers are tackled. There is no doubt in our opinion that championing rights for parents and carers in the arts will create a more equal workforce, allowing producers and programmers to put on a diverse range of work that reflects our population.
We must develop infrastructures that support parents and carers in a way that is practical and sustainable to meet the unique requirements of our often atypical hours. Other industries have been more successful in adapting to accommodate these working patterns in the workplace.
It is necessary for us to consider flexible working, to explore the challenges and find ways to overcome them. We all need to be thinking of new ways to approach recruitment, right down to what we expect on a CV. Someone at the ITC AGM suggested when a mother has had 4 years off to start a family she should add it as work experience, after all a lot of the skills we learn through parenting are certainly transferable. Someone else suggested we stop focussing on whether a person has done the exact job before and search for ways to uncover potential in a candidate that would otherwise have been overlooked.
Given that freelancers make up 44% of the creative workforce and forecasts say self employment will overtake public sector employment by 2018, it is even more crucial that we keep exploring new ways to support this workforce. At present employers have few responsibilities towards the freelancer, many of whom have caring responsibilities. The precariousness of self-employment isn’t always a career path for those from low-income backgrounds whose need for financial stability outweighs the luxury of personal fulfilment. How can we support this workforce and encourage entry to the profession for who strive to achieve a positive work/ life balance further down the line? How can we attract and retain a more diverse workforce?
At present PIPA is focussing time and resources on theatre, simply because it is the sector we know best. Anything we learn in this arena we can take with us as we venture into pastures new. It is vital however that we work ultimately across sectors to have the widest possible impact on the cultural landscape. There are significant opportunities for learning within every creative sector. We recently spoke to Hofesh Shechter Dance Company who provides nannies to go on tour if their performers have children and Vincent Dance Theatre says:
‘To avoid losing our best mature performers to motherhood we must provide consistent, appropriate support to encourage women back to work or we will create a UK dance ecology dominated by men and younger female artists whose work is valid, but perhaps lacks emotional depth.’
That doesn’t mean there aren’t theatre, music, opera companies that already have some best practice in place when it comes to supporting carers, as was clear at the AGM. What is does mean is that we need to collate all these examples and design a mechanism for sharing and learning through each other’s experiences.
It is very clear that creative organisations are being required to do more and spend less which is potentially crippling for the creative industries. Our aim is to bridge this gap. An internal shift in values can begin simply with peer to peer support and dialogue. We all have an opportunity here to affect the cultural landscape in a lasting and meaningful way for everyone. Please support us to help make change happen.