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Amplifying Voices, Ensuring Dignity at Work

This is a paper presented to the MA Cultural Policy and Arts Management at UCD in November 2017, on foot of allegations of sexual harassment and bullying in the arts, theatre and a range of other sectors, and the publication of the Amplify Women toolkit.

Firstly, I’d like to thank Emily, Annette and Pat for inviting me to talk to you this morning. I’ve prepared a short paper rather than a presentation as I’m hoping I can share some useful, connected insights from a few perspectives.

As mentioned, I’ve been working with the arts community – including the Abbey Theatre – on the issue of gender equality and diversity – this year. I’m graduating next week from a sister institution, the Institute of Public Administration from their MEconScience in Public Policy Analysis - my research focus was on public policy change and advocacy movements, with #WakingTheFeminists and #MarRef as my case studies.

I’m also a member of the Board of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, and the Boards of CoisCéim Dance Theatre and Poetry Ireland – and my undergraduate thesis was on Dignity at Work… So, in essence, I’m hoping I can touch on a number of interconnected themes this morning – namely, gender equality, both organisational and public policy and governance.

In 2015, #WakingTheFeminists[1] brought gender equality in the arts centre stage. As I’m sure many of you will know – the context of the movement arose from the 2016 commemorative programme, Waking the Nation, launched in October 2015. With only one play written by a woman, and a general scarcity of female talent within its creative teams, the Abbey’s 2016 programme became a catalyst for a wider conversation and awareness of the lack of female representation in theatre. It was truly a shock for many, including a large swathe of the general population whose position, undoubtedly, was that the arts would be a bastion of equality – being mainly ‘liberal and well-meaning’ (the words of Lian Bell).

However, moving on to June this year, when ‘Gender Counts’[2] – a detailed academic analysis of gender representation in theatre over ten years – was published, the realities of this scarcity were definitely borne out. The topline figures across the sample (the analysis covered the top ten Arts Council funded theatre organisations between 2006 – 2015) – showed that women made up 37% of directors; 28% authors; 42% of cast and only 9% of sound designers – conversely, they made up 79% of costume designers.

Given my company here today, it’s important to note that across the sample, Project Arts Centre is cited as one of the best performers – with 42% overall female representation (including 68% female directors in 2015).

So – in acknowledging the issues – e.g. a lack of access / opportunity / advancement – what has happened since to move the dial closer to equality?

At #OneThingMore in November 2016, the culmination of a years’ advocacy and awareness development, #WakingTheFeminists, along with around fifty speakers from a whole range of sectors – issued a call-out to everyone working in the arts to think about what ‘one thing’ more they could do to support equality in the arts, with the aim of achieving 50/50 representation in five years. An immediate follow-through was the establishment of the Gender Equality Policy Working Group, a working group drawn from companies across the sector and representing the full range of theatre organisations – a festival, a regional venue, a major national institution, a training organisation and an artist-led company.

The Working Group has met continuously throughout the year and will be publishing its individual policies early in 2018 – with a view to ensuring the wider community can benefit from their experience, and hopefully also develop their own policies from the material that will be available.

The development of gender equality policies was also the theme of a workshop hosted by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, in March 2017. As part of the workshop, the Minister asked the cultural institutions to put gender equality policies in place ahead of the centenary of women’s suffrage in 2018 – a timely milestone “to highlight the role of women in Irish society today and set ourselves challenging goals for the future”[3]. It is understood that most, if not all, cultural institutions, are undertaking this objective by the end of the 2017.

On the same day as “Gender Counts” was published, the Abbey Theatre announced the next phase of its activity – the development of a Gender Equality and Diversity Strategy – to align with its “8 Guiding Principles on Gender Equality”[4]. This project has necessitated a cultural audit through staff engagement, with a clear focus on key organisational themes to ensure the effective promotion of diversity and inclusion.

Additionally, reporting[5] later on in June of this year noted the possibility of gender equality becoming an Arts Council requirement for all funded-organisations – a significant development, if implemented. As of now, I understand that this requirement is to be decided upon by the end of the year.

It’s notable, that this years’ National Strategy for Women and Girls[6] makes special reference to the role of women in the arts and issues of representation; while Arts Council England cites its own measurement activity clearly on its website, “We want the diversity of audiences, leaders, producers and creators of arts and culture to reflect the diversity of contemporary England. We measure our progress by collecting, analysing and reporting on data relating to equality and diversity of the work, organisations and projects that we fund.[7]”

Back at home, earlier this autumn, the NWCI published “Towards gender responsive budgeting in Ireland[8]”– making the case for gender equality at the heart of government decision-making - the budget.

So – what can we deduce from these developments in terms of their likely impact on policy? It’s highly implausible that, in the short-medium-term, we will see a diminution of its place on the policy agenda. Not least of all, in light of continued international and national discussion regarding progress – or in many respects – lack thereof on issues of gender equality.

For instance EIGE, the European Institute for Gender Equality, that reports annually on individual country’s progress as well as on a pan-European basis –entitled this year’s publication release ‘Gender Equality Index 2017: Progress at a snail’s pace’[9].

Undoubtedly, continuous policy activity around gender equality – both at organisational and governmental levels – is very likely to remain on the agenda for some time yet. Not least of all, given the more recent revelations, both at home and abroad, in the arts and many other sectors.

In fact, the discussions regarding bullying and harassment of late do connect strongly with gender equality – while undoubtedly the issues affect everyone in the workplace, the pervasive and continuous theme of this recent narrative highlight a clear tendency towards acts of harassment by men against women. Without question, this has a direct impact on an individual’s ability to progress, or develop within their profession – not to mention the extremely nefarious impact such experiences can have on an individuals’ confidence and wellbeing.

So, what can arts organisations – or any organisation for that matter! – do to ensure adherence to best practice in terms of gender equality and promoting dignity at work?

Firstly, it’s important to understand your obligations – legally – and that of your Board. The Employment Equality Acts stipulate clearly the responsibilities employers have regarding promoting equality in the workplace, but also dealing with any specific incidents of bullying or harassment – e.g. having a robust policy in place and also a process, which is easy and practical to follow. Employers also have a duty of care to staff under Health and Safety legislation – and both apply to individuals engaged on contracts of and for services (e.g. employees and contractors).

Of an equally significant level of importance, is your organisation’s culture – and the necessity for openness, transparency and safety. That individuals feel secure in discussing or recording issues they are concerned about, that they are listened to and have appropriate channels to address those concerns.

From both an equality and dignity perspective, Under the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty, “All public bodies in Ireland have responsibility to promote equality, prevent discrimination and protect the human rights of their employees, customers, service users and everyone affected by their policies and plans.”[10] This statement confers a clear expectation concerning publicly-funded organisations, and as such, their responsibilities. It’s also crucial to note at this juncture that not only is it imperative for organisations to consider gender equality as part of its strategic planning and review processes – but also the wider diversity of our society.

But if we step away, briefly, from the issue of mandatory requirements – and think more of the abundance of creativity and productivity that comes with diversity and gender equality – not only are both moral imperatives, but without a clear focus on both, we’re continually likely to be drawing from the same pool, and missing out on vast swathe of talent.

While businesses talk of the benefits of diversity in terms of innovation, risk management and the bottom line (diverse organisations report returns of 35% higher than industry averages) – according to Arts Council England, the arts can expect to see a direct link between greater diversity in its workforce, its programming and its audiences. Given that audience diversification and development is a significant challenge for most organisations, finding new ways to harness fresh talent and accordingly, attract new audiences, is not to be sniffed at.

The role of organisational activities and processes such as recruitment and performance management; programming and artist development; outreach and education; and communications are all pivotal in enhancing diversity and inclusion. A joined-up policy with a clear action plan is the only way to achieve that – alongside ensuring that gender equality and diversity is enshrined in all the activities of the organisation (Organisational Strategies / Plans are a good start!). This responsibility also belongs with the Board, and should feature on their agenda on a regular basis.

So where might we be in by 2021, the point at which most arts organisations will be reviewing the success of their gender equality policies? For starters, it will provide a timely opportunity to review the impact of the processes and practices employed, whether they have achieved their stated aims and how best they might be evolved. To use a well-worn phrase, ‘what gets measured gets done’. Undoubtedly, there will be scope for adjustment and it’s possible, given the ever-changing nature of society and economy that some issues will have progressed more successfully than others. For what it’s worth, I am confident that the arts will have lead the way in showing leadership on the issue – and making real, tangible progress happen.

Why is this? The arts occupy a uniquely important position as informers and shapers of public debate. As such, it’s fair to say that the impact of #WakingTheFeminists, subsequent activity around gender equality and diversity in the sector, and recent discussions regarding bullying and harassment will have awoken many other sectors to their own specific issues. From regular engagement with organisations I have outside the arts – I can attest to the reverence and regard the sector is seen as showing to the issues, in not shying away from difficulty but proactively tackling it head-on. Personally, I’ve been hugely impressed by the willingness, engagement and genuine goodwill shown to making change happen.

As the future leaders of our arts sector, I have no doubt that the spirit of this commitment to change and excellence will be in the best of hands.

Thank you.


Amplify Women, an umbrella group of organisations that represent, or carry out research about women working in the cultural and media industries, produced a toolkit providing supports, guidelines and information on dignity in the workplace.

[1] #WakingTheFeminists |

[2] Gender Counts | #WakingTheFeminists |

[3] Minister Humphreys hosts gender policy workshop with Cultural Institutions | |

[4] Gender Equality Principles | Abbey Theatre |

[5] “Arts Council moves closer to gender equality” | |

[6] Department of Justice & Equality | National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020: creating a better society for all |

[7] Arts Council England | Equality and Diversity Data |

[8] ‘Towards Gender Responsive Budgeting in Ireland’. | NWCI

[9] Gender Equality Index 2017: Progress at a snail’s pace | EIGE |

[10] Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty | IHREC |

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