Towards better gender balance in the performing arts

New research suggests gender inequality in the theatre is getting worse in some cases. Parents and Carers in the Performing Arts says the unequal care burden is in part to blame and has been pioneering ways to make the performing arts more family friendly.


A recent report reveals that despite improvement in some areas, gender equality in theatre has not yet been achieved. The report by playwright Jennifer Tuckett and the Sphinx Theatre Company suggests that theatre may be lagging behind other art forms.

One reason for women’s lack of representation is the unequal distribution of caring responsibilities. Parents and Carers in the Performing Arts Balancing Act shows 79% of women reported that they were the primary carer as opposed to 16% of male respondents. Women were also statistically more likely than men to take on elder caring responsibilities, with many caring for young children and elderly parents at the same time.

The research also found that 50% of females with caring responsibilities said that they had to change their work location because of childcare responsibilities compared to 36% of men. 44% of women, versus 23% of men, had changed their work role due to caring responsibilities.

Our research also identified that patterns of work for men in the performing arts did not vary significantly between those with or without parenting or caring responsibilities, but that almost eight out of 10 women in the performing arts indicated that they worked either freelance or part-time and eight out of 10 said they had turned down work because of
parenting or caring responsibilities.

The shift towards freelance or part-time work almost without exception seemed to involve a reduction in the level of responsibility and a reduction in opportunities for promotion or advancement. PiPA’s research also identified a pay penalty for parents and carers: carers earn £3,000 less a year than those who do not have such responsibilities.

Best practice

At the time of PiPA’s inaugural research in 2016, there was no evidence of strategies such as job-sharing or restructuring roles being used in order to sustain the career development of part-time workers. However, since then PiPA – which
works with organisations to support the implementation of effective strategies to ensure that the sector is able to attract and retain a diverse and representative workforce inclusive of carers and parents – has designed a Best Practice Charter as well as a monitoring and evaluation framework and toolkit in order to support organisations to work towards the 10 points on the Best Practice Charter. Over the past couple of years we have seen:

  • Family friendly rehearsals taking place across the sector. This includes truncated rehearsals, working 10-5, no Saturday rehearsals and scheduling rehearsals in advance to allow people to plan their care requirements
  • Job shares at all levels – on-stage, off-stage, executive and board level
  • Roles being advertised as ‘open to flexible working and job-shares
  • Additional resources such as creches at audition and a PiPA Pot (a line in the budget for additional or unforeseen caring needs).

Gender equality

However, this is not just about enabling women to come back to work, to have flexibility, to be able to ‘do it all’. Gender equality is about access and equal rights for men and women at home and work and there is an urgent need to support fathers to take a leading role in caring responsibilities. There is currently no paternity allowance for freelance men while
women have 39 weeks standard maternity allowance. The message about whose job it is to look after the kids is clear.

Whilst we don’t have paternity allowance for men who are freelancers there is a huge appetite for Shared Parental Leave. PiPA’s Balancing Act revealed that 73% freelancers would take Shared Parental Leave if it was available.

Research has also identified that men are increasingly choosing not to work extremely long hours and are taking a more active part in family life. We have to work towards establishing organisational cultures, practices and policies that are
favourable towards flexibility and work-life balance for all.

Supporting carers and parents is not the only solution to redressing gender inequality in the sector, but it is a practical approach to removing a very real and systemic barrier that is preventing women from staying in the performing arts. The infrastructure that is required to accommodate those with caring responsibilities centres on flexibility and communication, key components for creating an inclusive cultural landscape that is accessible for all.

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