PIPA’s Best Practice Research Project has done pioneering work to:
- highlight exclusions and challenges affecting workers with caring responsibilities in the UK theatre,
- generate and propagate models of inclusive practice regarding people with caring responsibilities within UK theatre organisations,
- create a legacy of best practice that could transform the working lives of people with caring responsibilities and contribute to widening inclusion in the arts more generally.
The research was conducted by a combination of approaches. Initially, we surveyed and interviewed workers in the theatre sector in order to create an accurate picture of their perceptions of the barriers and challenges faced by people working in the theatre who also have caring responsibilities. The findings of this stage of the research were reported in December 2016 and have already received attention both in the press and in further industry research, particularly UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatres’ 2017 Theatre Workforce Report. The research then moved into a second stage, in which fifteen partner theatres trialed solutions to the challenges identified in the first stage of the research. These trials were supported by PIPA and monitored by the research team through a combination of meetings with partners and telephone interviews. The full report contains information on all of the findings of the first stage and the trials undertaken in the second stage. In the interests of brevity, this summary refers only to the key findings and makes recommendations based upon them.
Stage One: Highlighting and Addressing Challenges and Exclusions
Stage one of the project involved a survey, with 966 respondents, which sought to identify barriers and challenges faced by workers with caring responsibilities in the UK theatre. This was followed up with focus groups and interviews to provide more contextual information, and to identify various particular challenges and aspects of good practice within our partner theatres. The research conducted during this stage of the research project highlighted a number of challenges affecting people with caring responsibilities.
At this stage, we particularly highlighted:
- the unequal division of responsibility for caring between genders, which was exacerbated by gendered inequalities of pay and conditions;
- challenges in communication between employers and employees about caring responsibilities and their impact or potential impact;
- gaps in provision for people with caring responsibilities, particularly for the self-employed;
- structural or systemic exclusions of people with caring responsibilities from work and/or opportunities for employment.
The findings at this stage demonstrated the depth and complexity of the challenges faced both by theatre workers with caring responsibilities and their employers. We identified both employment and career consequences of caring and highlighted aspects of the long-established working culture of theatres that actively disadvantage and exclude people with caring responsibilities. The challenge set for our partner theatres in the second stage of the research, therefore, was to find, with the support of PIPA, practical ways of beginning to achieve lasting change.
Stage Two: Generating Models of Equality and Inclusive Practice
The aim of the second stage of the research was to generate models of equality and inclusive practice with regard to people with caring responsibilities. In this stage, our fifteen partner theatres selected aspects of their practice to address, and trialed, with the support of PIPA, solutions to some of the challenges raised in the first stage of the research. As I have said, the three key themes of the work in the second stage of the project were:
- Extra Provision
- Adaptation of Existing Systems and Structures
1. In the area of communication, partner theatres have undertaken the following measures:
- designating PIPA champions with varied levels of responsibility for oversight of PIPA trials and maintaining contact with PIPA;
- organising PIPA forums to facilitate networking between people with caring responsibilities and arranging mentoring and peer networks;
- altering advertisements to highlight family-friendly policies and willingness to support workers with caring responsibilities;
- altering welcome packs for freelance workers to include information about support for people with caring responsibilities and generating family-friendly digs lists;
- supporting freelance workers with caring responsibilities by establishing contacts with childcare providers;
- adding questions about caring responsibilities to appraisal/review processes for permanent staff;
- establishing relationships with the Actors’ Children’s Trust, who can offer support with childcare costs.
2. This increasing openness around communication about caring responsibilities has enabled theatres to contemplate extra provision for people with caring responsibilities. Examples include:
- providing breast-feeding facilities;
- providing crêches for some interviews, auditions and networking events;
- providing accommodation (in exceptional cases) for freelance workers with children (as this is necessarily limited it has been agreed on a case-by-case basis) and/or creating space for children in or near rehearsals (also on a case-by-case basis);
- research into the provision of an ad hoc childcare facility (findings suggest that this will not prove affordable without dedicated sponsorship);
- the provision, in exceptional cases, of supplementary pay for childcare (inevitably, this provision carries a danger of establishing a precedent and inflating budgets);
- the provision of enhanced maternity and paternity pay (this has become a condition of BECTU contracts), and of shared parental leave.
3. Finally, structural and/or systemic exclusions of people with caring responsibilities have been addressed by a number of partner theatres. Measures taken have included:
- the introduction of job-share roles, for example in stage management;
- changes to the location and/or scheduling of rehearsals to enable parents to collect children from childcare or, in some cases, to travel home in time for a full weekend;
- the opening of rehearsals to the children of freelance workers in limited circumstances;
- the extending of time allowed for freelance workers to consider job offers and arrange childcare;
- the exploration of some limited alterations to production and technical schedules.
- the provision of performances scheduled to make them accessible to people with caring responsibilities.
Creating a Legacy of Best Practice
Research undertaken during this project has demonstrated that a legacy of best practice in the employment of people with caring responsibilities can be achieved through two processes:
- scaling up the achievements of partner theatres in this project by other theatre organisations committing to implement our recommendations;
- developing further work to address more complex, systemic challenges.
We therefore make the following two recommendations:
- For organisations proactively to address specific challenges faced by people with caring responsibilities using the guidelines suggested in the PIPA Best Practice Charter.
- For further work to be undertaken in partnership with theatres who are prepared to commit to altering more systemic aspects of their working practices and to monitoring and evaluating the process.
Recommendation 1: For organisations proactively to address specific challenges faced by people with caring responsibilities using the guidelines suggested in the PIPA Best Practice Charter.
Our research has shown that implementing the kinds of measures trialed in this project could have a transformative effect on the ability of people with caring responsibilities to continue to work in the theatre. All of these measures were conceived, planned, delivered and evaluated within a period of about nine months, for which budgets and schedules had already been set, and our partner theatres must be congratulated for their work in achieving this. The short timescale in which these changes were achieved also demonstrates that they could quickly be scaled up across the sector. We therefore recommend that PIPA should work with its partners to establish the legacy of this project by enabling the changes it has generated to be implemented across the theatre sector and in the performing arts more widely. We suggest that this should be achieved by developing resources that theatres can access when attempting to implement the recommendations outlined here in the form of a Best Practice Charter.
Many of these resources will, inevitably, relate to relatively simple and reactive measures that are targeted to specific problems, such as the provision of crêches at interviews, or the altering of recruitment adverts. But it would be inaccurate to assume that, because these measures are relatively simple solutions to specific problems, they are therefore either simple to implement or unlikely to constitute substantial changes to the working practices of theatres. Theatres have benefitted during the process of implementing their trails both from the support of PIPA and from peer networks established by regular meetings of partners. Further theatres seeking to implement our recommendations will require similar support that could be provided by resources to be developed by PIPA based upon this research. Furthermore, we have found in this research that simpler targeted measures often serve as catalysts to more substantial and widespread changes: putting conversations about caring responsibilities on the table gives them an opportunity to develop and for their ambition to grow.
Recommendation 2: For further work to be undertaken in partnership with theatres who are prepared to commit to altering more systemic aspects of their working practices and to monitoring and evaluating the process.
Inevitably, however, in some instances, the scale of change that has been achieved by this project has been constrained not only by the timescale of the research, but by barriers to organisational change that theatres have encountered. Sometimes this is a question of resource: organisations that are already attempting to deliver ambitious projects in a context of constrained funding do not always have the capacity to take on more work. Sometimes it is a question of decision-making structures that can be slow to respond to new initiatives. Sometimes, however, it is a question of assumptions. We have seen on a number of occasions that people exclude others from opportunities to work because they assume that they will not be either attractive to them or even possible for them, and that people self-select out of work that they assume they will not be able to undertake because of their caring responsibilities. We have seen, however, that, by a combination of advertising their willingness to engage with the challenges faced by workers with caring responsibilities and building opportunities for these discussions into communication processes, organisations can work to shift their own assumptions and those of their employees and potential workers.
We have also found that the complex, multiple processes involved in the running of a theatre, and the wide range of stakeholders with whom they engage can function either as barriers to change, or as complicating factors in the process of achieving change. The complex interactions between working processes in theatres mean that altering one aspect of an organisation’s work may have consequences for other aspects of its operations, which are not always easy to predict. These interacting processes are also likely to have developed over a long period of time, and will not usually have been explicitly designed, but rather will have emerged from a gradual evolutionary process that can be difficult to disentangle. That difficulty can form a further barrier to change.
In short: we have heard from various respondents at all stages of the research project that making alterations to particular aspects of a theatre’s work simply would not be possible. We have also seen, however, that substantial, systemic changes are possible. This situation demonstrates clearly the need for further work in this area to address making alterations within the complex, systemic relationships constituted by theatre organisations by involving a wide range of stakeholders over a longer period of time than was possible within this project. We therefore recommend that PIPA should undertake further work with theatres to address longer term, systemic challenges that require, for example, alterations to budgets and schedules and the restructuring of work in an organisation. We also recommend that this work should be monitored and evaluated so that its impacts can be scaled up across other organisations, and that theatres undertaking such work should collect data relating to changes in their practice in order to test their effectiveness.
A Coordinated Approach to Inclusion
The second stage of this research project has demonstrated that to argue that theatre organisations simply cannot be made more accessible to people with caring responsibilities is both an inaccurate and an inadequate response, owing to the inherent privileges and exclusions that are at stake within this claim. As such, this project has begun to draw on the expertise of a wide range of workers in the industry to develop innovative models for inclusive practice.
I want, therefore, to add a point about diversity and inclusion more generally. It has been argued during the course of this research by some respondents that the problems it seeks to address are those of relatively privileged people: our survey respondents were, for example, more likely to be heterosexual, married and white than members of the general population. That is undeniable, but respondents were also more likely to earn less than the median annual income, and much more likely to be self-employed than members of the general population, meaning that, on average, they will have less recourse to financial support with managing caring responsibilities. Equally, the high proportion of female respondents highlighted that the responsibility for childcare falls disproportionately to women. It is therefore unsurprising that respondents commonly made reference to forms of social advantage (such as the support of family members or friends or a partner with more flexible work) upon which they depend to balance their working lives and caring responsibilities. This reveals the extent to which people with caring responsibilities rely upon social advantages to mitigate those responsibilities. It is therefore likely that those without such social advantages are more likely already to have been excluded from the theatre workforce altogether. If caring responsibilities represent a challenge to the relatively privileged, they are likely to represent an insurmountable barrier to those facing other social exclusions.
This research therefore reminds us that us that plural forms of discrimination are interlocking and it is paramount that we don’t overlook any forms of exclusion, exploitation, or inequality. This report therefore recommends that work to address the challenges and exclusions faced by people with caring responsibilities can and should form a part of co-ordinated attempts to address diversity and exclusion in the theatre sector. If we are serious about addressing unequal representation, then further work in this area, co-ordinated with work seeking to address other exclusions, offers a practical and realistic means of achieving significant change in the theatre sector and beyond.
In conclusion, this research has found that substantial changes in the practice of theatre organisations can be achieved, even in the relatively short term, and that such changes depend upon a willingness to:
- alter communication strategies with regard to the caring responsibilities of workers,
- allocate resources to supporting people with caring responsibilities,
- reconsider working processes and structures that exclude people with caring responsibilities.
This process will not be possible without continued work from PIPA, or without the collective commitment of theatres to engage in it and to support each other. With that support, the measures that this project has initiated and tracked could create a legacy of lasting change in the theatre sector.
Dr. Tom Cornford,
Lecturer in Theatre and Performance, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
Lead Researcher, PIPA Best Practice Research Project