READ Can the Performing Arts - as an employer - be family-friendly? New research - “Balancing Act” - from Parents and Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA) reveals the challenges, particularly for creative, onstage and backstage workers, in this most pressurised of industries.
For an industry which talks a good talk about being representative of its audience - and which has invested greatly over the past decade or so in diversity initiatives, from community outreach work to ticket schemes for local people, education and schools programmes, and improved accessibility, not just to the physical buildings but via signed shows, autism-friendly performances and other initiatives - the big challenge is how to ensure that the performing arts workforce itself is diverse and representative. The business case is clear - diversity drives creativity and innovation, which for this industry of all industries is where self interest locks solidly on to the right thing to do; and diversity also supports a workforce which is more representative of - and so has greater insight into - the industry’s customers: its audience, the paying public.
But for all the external action, internally it is clear that this is an industry with much to do if it is to become truly inclusive of its desired diverse workforce. Today’s performing arts organisations unconsciously exclude parents and carers.
It is not an easy industry. Work for many is insecure: fixed term contracts, often short term; high levels of self-employment. Recruitment is frequently last-minute, especially for performers, backstage and creative workers. Combined with short notice changes to schedules, it can be impossible to organise care when it is needed, so parents and carers are obliged to turn down paid work. Performing schedules involve evenings, weekends and bank holidays, while set-up and take-down times for shows include night time work. Touring work takes parents and carers away from home for short and long periods.
And it is often low paid work - the median income reported by Balancing Act respondents was £23,000 pa, but for parents and carers, there is a clear pay penalty: the median for a parent or carer was £20,000 pa; for the average self-employed parent or carer £16,000 pa.
The inevitable result is that experienced people are leaving the industry entirely or are leaving the roles which they have been trained for. The talent drain is stark. Those who stay, do so despite the parenting and caring pay penalty. Particularly affected are women, who are more likely to be the primary carer, more likely to be self-employed, and more likely to have turned down paid work.
Balancing Act respondents also revealed the importance of social capital - many rely on a partner’s income to subsidise their career in the performing arts, or on family living close by to step in with back-up childcare. The industry’s London-centricity compounds this, discriminating against those who do not have family support locally, or who simply cannot afford to live in the city.
What can be done? The PiPA Charter and supporting programme shows the way. Developed by 22 performing arts organisations, as varied as London’s Old Vic, Hull Truck Theatre and the National Theatre of Scotland, it’s a well thought-through set of work areas, which organisations can tackle step by step. Practical, pragmatic and all do-able, it asks organisations to rethink, for example, recruitment, scheduling, jobsharing and flexible working, and family support. Any organisation which works through the set will have made serious progress towards an inclusive and parent/carer friendly culture - and all the diversity benefits which flow from that achievement. PiPA now has Arts Council England funding to develop the Charter in 2019 with music, dance and opera organisations. The future, for the performing arts, is increasingly more family-friendly.