Gender inequality in the UK's arts industry is "disgraceful", says new report

Jessica Davis
·3-min read
Photo credit: Busà Photography - Getty Images
Photo credit: Busà Photography - Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

The gender inequality within the UK's art industry is "disgraceful" and is likely to get worse after the pandemic, according to new research.

The underrepresentation of women could rise and needs to “be taken seriously”, says a new report, which urges the government’s Cultural Renewal Taskforce and Arts Council England (ACE) to rethink their strategies on tackling gender inequality.

Collated by the Women in Theatre Forum, the report highlights an imbalance of women on the Cultural Renewal Taskforce, which is responsible for supporting the culture sector during the pandemic.

“Zero leadership positions are occupied by women, with only three women on the taskforce as a whole,” it explains.

The research found that women are significantly under-represented by a lack of female leadership in theatre and film; just 16 per cent of working film-makers are female and only 14 per cent of prime-time TV is written by women, according to the Guardian.

The report also found that 72 per cent of female performers felt they had to “look a certain way” to get work, compared to 28 per cent of males.

Twice as many women as men working in the performing arts say they have changed their work role due to caring responsibilities; eight out of 10 women have been forced to turn down work due to parenting or caring responsibilities during the pandemic.

Trans women reported being undermined in the rehearsal room, while many female directors are still being paid less for the same work as men.

The extensive report was conducted via a collaboration between Sphinx Theatre, University Women in the Arts and December Group in partnership with trade unions Equity and Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, alongside Black Womxn in Theatre, Stage Directors UK, Era 50:50 and Parents and Carers in Performing Arts.

Despite multiple figures writing to the culture secretary Oliver Dowden last June about the worrying findings - including actor Maureen Beattie, president of Equity, and Julia Pascal, the first woman to direct a play at the National Theatre - they received no reply.

They later contacted Neil Mendoza, the government’s Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal about their findings, but they were dismissed.

“I started at Equity in 1971 and I’m fighting the same battles now as I faced then,” said Beattie. “It is endemic that women are under more scrutiny and are seen as not quite as good. It’s the same sexism. It has improved but it hasn’t gone away.”

Photo credit: Robbie Jack
Photo credit: Robbie Jack

Sue Parrish, the artistic director of Sphinx, echoed the same concerns and called the taskforce’s gender imbalance “disgraceful”.

“They could be seizing the opportunity for new pathways to be set and to represent all of culture and society,” she explained, “but they have failed. It’s astonishing a government taskforce could be so behind the curve and we will certainly be pursuing them.”

The full report is available from Sphinx Theatre and University Women in the Arts.

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