A Question of Equity - April 1990

Submitted by root on Mon, 08/07/2017 - 17:44


It is obvious that women make a major contribution to the cultural life of Merseyside, running many of the small scale and medium scale arts organisations and making a major input into amateur arts organisations. It is equally obvious that the ways that women are allowed to contribute are circumscribed by what is a white, male, able-bodied estab­lishment which reserves the most powerful jobs, and the greatest amount of public resources, for itself.

Equal Opportunities Policies are a tool through which it is hoped that change will be effected. However, as this report shows, the existence of Equal Opportunities Policies is only a small step on the road to achieving an equity of employment - in terms of earnings, in terms of seniority, in terms of status etc.

It would seem basic that organisations produce plans (including time-tables) explaining how they are going to implement their policies and what changes they expect to see. There is then a need for funding bodies to apply themselves to the question of monitoring. How it is best done, by whom it is best done, and what action could be taken if organisations fail to progress in this area.

It is important that both local and central funding bodies are involved in monitoring equal opportunities because, as must be obvious from this report, some of the organisations most in need of change are the large scale arts organisations. The middle scale and smaller arts organisations - the organisations funded locally - are usually the areas in which there are already real attempts to institute equal opportunities (indeed it is in this area that one finds the organisations whose very existence is about achieving some kind of parity within the arts) and they are also the organisations already most likely to be subject to scrutiny.

It is also time that the monitoring of equal opportunities was placed more firmly in the hands of the communities being discriminated against and this would certainly include women. Indeed if such communities could veto public support of an organisation, if change was not forthcoming, then there is every likelihood that equal opportunities policy and practice would be on the way to becoming one and the same thing.

Women need not only to contribute to the cultural life of an area but also need to be in a position to determine the policies which affect cultural provision. This applies both to women working within the arts and to women sitting on management committees etc. Certainly the concept of equal opportunities should immediately be extended to include the composition of management committees.

A more difficult problem to tackle, and one which will require real thought and effort, is how to ensure that women begin to make a proper contribution as managers within our major arts organisations. The present situation in which women do at least half of the work but wield considerably less than half of the power is only too familiar to most women. It is at base both inequitable and in itself prevents change. A possible approach would be an equivalent in the arts to the 300 Group in politics. That is a group which encourages women to apply for senior jobs, helps them acquire the skills to get such jobs and so on.

It would seem obvious that one of the issues to be looked at here is the question of training - both in terms of training whilst in work and in terms of the kind of arts training being provided within the educational establishment. This research did look at the amount of training being provided by organisations and who was undertaking it. However the data gathered did not allow for any real conclusions to be drawn in terms of women though it will provide a starting point for Phase Two of the research where I am sure training will be an issue.

However, at base, art is about communicating a view of the world. Therefore the most worrying aspect of this research is the way that it shows that the majority of works being promoted/presented are by men. It is a finding which is reflected in national statistics - for instance of the 435 plays performed at the National Theatre only 10 (that is 2%) have been by women, of the 2010 works on display in the National Gallery only 8 (that is less than 1%) are by women.

In terms of works, if the authorship is male then the message offers a masculine view of the world. The current system fails to present the cultural diversity which exists within our society - a diversity which stems from differences of gender, race, age, class, disability. And hence it fails large portions of our society in what is one of the basic functions of art - that is it fails to illuminate people's own experience.

It also precludes the possibility of people learning from the presence of a diversity of cultural experiences, which is one of the ways we can hope to come to some understanding of ourselves and others.

Unless something is done to change this situation then it will not matter how many women administrators, performers etc. there are; it will simply be that this generation of women, as have previous generations, will be devoting their time and energy to promoting the ideas and works of men. The major difference being that they are getting paid to do it whereas previous generations did it for love, out of family duty, etc.

It would therefore seem basic that the concept of equal opportunities is extended beyond the area of employment and is also applied to all areas of activity carried out by arts organisations and specifically to programming. This would be a major change and also a complex change to institute but it is surely a necessary change.

Hopefully Part Two of the Women's Arts Research will focus on ways of achieving equal opportunities within employment for all women at all levels and on ways of extending equal opportunities to the other areas of activities carried out by art organisations - from the content of the arts educational and training programmes to the running of workshops or seminars. And specifically to the gender balance within programming.

Wendy Harpe

Women's Arts Researcher

February 1990