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BUILDING A Better Workplace: Women + increasingly abandon technical theatre over lack of parity and equity.

A survey conducted by researchers at Millikin University in fall 2018 illustrates the challenging workplace cultures that women+ experience in technical theatre. Drawing on almost 600 responses from female-identifying theatre design and production practitioners, the study found two significant obstacles that women+ face in theatrical design and production industry careers: lack of support for parents and negative workplace environments. The study data advances our ongoing discussions about gender equity and parity while providing insights into the specific challenges of women+ at work. Fortunately, the theatre community has an opportunity to take some successful steps towards creating an inclusive environment for women+ and building a foundation for achievable industry-wide changes.

The current study was inspired, in part, by the work of Elizabeth Freestone, the artistic director of the UK's Pentabus Theatre. During the 2012-2013 season, Freestone conducted a survey of a concentrated group of subsidized theatres in the United Kingdom and revealed a 2:1 male to female staffing ratio across all areas of theatre. Moreover, she discovered that the parity of women and men working in technical theatre declined over their years in the industry. The ratio of men to women in their 20s is nearly 50:50. In their 30s, it shifts to roughly 40:60; in their 40s, 30:70; and in their 50s, 20:80.

While contextualizing her data, Freestone said, "For people interested in working in theatre, the research shows that at entry-level, men and women are equal." The theatre "is an equally attractive proposition for both men and women at the outset of their careers. So, the question is not how do we attract women to working in theatre, but how do we keep women working in theatre."

Attempting to answer Freestone's question, the current study asked respondents to discuss their experiences working in theatre. In fact, the current study found that nearly 75 percent of the 266 respondents who said they have left the industry cite some form of gender-based discrimination or lack of support.

The League of Professional Theatre Women (LPTW) also inspired the current study. As part of its Women Count initiative, the LPTW assessed hiring parity and equity in Off-Broadway theatres for playwrights, directors, and designers, analyzing the employment in 455 Off-Broadway productions by 22 theatre companies in five complete seasons, 2010-2015. The study found that scenic designers are less than one third women, ranging from a low of 22 percent to a high of 36 percent. Costume designers are primarily women, with a low of 61 percent women and a high of 79 percent women. Sound designers are one-fifth women, and lighting designers are overwhelmingly men, with a low of 8 percent women and a high of 16 percent women.

These studies and related research provided more questions than answers. What obstacles are women+ facing that are creating these gaps? How do family obligations factor in? What support do women+ need that is clearly lacking? How can we make positive changes to foster an industry that does not hinder, but supports the success of women+ in technical theatre?

Constant Battle

The current study employed a 13-question survey with participants recruited via several Facebook groups, including Women+ in Theatre, USITT Women in Theatre Network, USITT People of Color Nation, and USITT Queer Nation. The survey included questions about theatrical discipline, employment status, experiences of discrimination, and demographics. (For purposes of this article, the pronouns she/her/hers and the nouns woman/women are used, as this survey was directed towards female-identifying persons, with the understanding that responders to this survey may prefer other pronouns.)
Have you experienced parity and equity concerns at work?

Yes  90%
No   10%

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Types of Equity and Parity Concerns Reported By Respondents

Negative Workplace  80%
Gender-based        76%
Pay Gap             51%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Survey results exposed serious parity issues within the theatre design and production industry. Of the 589 respondents to this survey, 533 had experienced one or more of the following parity and equity concerns: negative workplace environment, gender-based harassment, and pay gaps. Ninety percent of respondents had encountered at least one of those experiences of discrimination. Among them 80 percent had experienced a negative workplace environment, 76 percent had experienced selected gender-based harassment, and 51 percent had experienced a pay gap. (Note that parity is understood to refer to equal pay or equal status, while equity speaks more to notions of justice, such as equal or fair treatment.)

The available comments section enabled many responders to expand on their selection. A sampling of responses points to the complexity and pervasiveness of equity and parity concerns. One costume designer and shop manager wrote about discipline-based discrimination: "I had a managing producer who did not value women. I was the resident costume designer and shop manager. I was paid less than all other staff, even though I had been there the longest and had an MFA in design. He also routinely turned down my purchase requests for basic shop supplies while fully funding the scene shop in addition to giving the scene shop free alcohol from concessions." Another costume designer and technician detailed her experience in production meetings: "Directors really only want to talk to scenic designers at the beginning of productions--costumes come much later in many cases--and often are considered "easy" aspects of a production--like an extra 10 people to costume isn't a big deal." The association of costuming with gender, as revealed by the LPTW survey, combines here with general gender-based discrimination to create a work environment where both discipline and worker are denied equity and parity.

A former lighting, scenic, and stage management person commented that "I got sick of being told a man, any man, could have done a better job." Another woman commented on her struggles right out of school: "Men didn't want to work with me because I'm small and look like I can't do the work, and women weren't in hiring positions, so I had to rely on networking, which was difficult right out of school." A lighting designer and technician relayed problematic actions and comments from male coworkers: "I can't stand being called sweetheart, honey, chick, baby doll, etc. I hate being asked out on calls, or even proposed to, given creepy gifts, and then when I politely refuse, they call me ugly names and then are impossible to work with." The range of harassing behaviors reported includes overt sexual harassment as well as more pernicious gender-based harassment.

Those who responded affirmatively to experiencing a negative workplace environment also offered revealing comments, including several who mentioned their constant battle to prove their skills and knowledge. A sound technician in the 40-50-year-old range said: "I get a lot of doubt from clients and colleagues. I have to constantly point out when I've been proven right. I have to fight harder for resources. When I solve a problem, it's overlooked, but when my male co-workers solve problems, they get accolades." Another scenic designer with 17 years of experience in her field stated that "time and time again, they discount and/or ignore any advice or recommendations I make about structure and engineering." A former scenic designer and technician commented on the job demands, saying, "I was often told that if I was 'really' serious about this career, I'd suck it up and work the weird hours for less than minimum wage and be grateful for the opportunity." She worked in the field for 5 years before leaving due to a lack of support for parents and general dissatisfaction with work/life balance.
Respondents Reporting Discrimination by Discipline

Costume     90%
Costume     89%
Lighting    93%
Lighting    93%
Properties  91%
Scenic      88%
Sound       88%
Sound       93%
Stage       86%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Percentage of Respondents by Discipline

Stage Management     32%
Lighting Production  25%
Costume Production   23%
Lighting Design      22%
Costume Design       21%
Properties Artisans  21%
Scenic Design        18%
Sound Production     12%
Sound Design         10%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Respondents Reporting Discrimination by Age Range

18-30  90%
31-40  93%
41-50  86%
51-60  96%
61+    82%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Survey Respondents by Age Range

18-30  52%
31-40  31%
41-50  11%
51-60   4%
61+     2%

Note: Table made from pie chart.

More than half (57%) of respondents who are parents also reported experiencing a pay gap. "I worked as the charge scenic artist at a regional theatre and was told that I could no longer receive raises because, according to my production manager 'he had men with families to support,'" one respondent commented. Another said, "I switched from a professional theatre company to academic theatre because the amount of money I was making was so incredibly low that a parttime adjunct position was a step up. The less qualified male who replaced me was offered literally four times as much as I had been making, and health insurance."

Notably, even though the number of women responding to the survey decreases by age bracket, the percentage of those experiencing discrimination stays fairly constant. The data also seems to parallel Freestone's survey, insofar as there simply appear to be fewer women working in the industry as the age bracket increases. Even if this result is the function of a response bias, the data suggests that discrimination against women in the technical theatre industry is not decreasing as women age. Indeed, it appears that women are choosing to leave the industry instead.

Abandoning the Field

This study sought not only to unearth the current struggles of women in technical theatre, but to confirm if women are leaving the industry at a faster rate, and why and for what reasons. Overall, 266 women reported leaving the industry, citing various types of discrimination and negative workplace environments, and a lack of support for parenting and family obligations. Furthermore, almost half (46%) of the 114 respondents who said that they were a parent or guardian have left the industry. The logistical struggles were many, the support lacking, and the environment wasn't feasible for bringing a young child to the workplace if necessary. Support for families in the technical theatre industry is sorely lacking.

The survey included questions about how respondents balanced responsibilities to family and children with their theatrical design and production careers. A sound designer and technician in her 40s commented, "I feel like I'm on the precipice of where women quit the industry. It's not a single thing that does it. It's that all the little things add up and, in the end, theatre is simply too hard to work in when you are the mother of small children." Another noted, "When I started my family, I attempted to work for a year after having a baby. It was very hard working nights and weekends and finding childcare outside of business hours. That is when I made the switch to work for a theatrical supplier." Another said, "I had to stop working when I was pregnant. I was put on bed rest. I had triplets. I will hopefully go back eventually, but with triplets, I haven't yet. They just turned 3."
Reasons Cited for Leaving the Industry

Change of Career                 25%
Lack of Promotion Opportunities  18%
Negative Workplace Environment   18%
Family Obligations               18%
Gender-based Discrimination      14%
Pay Gap                          12%
Mental Health Concerns            9%
Lack of Parenting Support         9%
Other Discrimination              3%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Many respondents also commented on the challenges of living far away from family, or leaving the arts to be with family. "I may be leaving theatre," a respondent commented. "I left my theatre job in May; I am currently the caregiver support for my grandmother with Alzheimer's and support for my mother in taking care of my grandmother, with no outside job." Others have mentioned that their theatre job takes them far away from family, while also not providing enough time or money to travel home.

Another difficult aspect, which in some cases permanently hinders the success of women in the field, is a lack of maternity leave. "It's hard to get maternity leave without the risk of losing your job." Another noted, "When I became pregnant, I was asked to leave." Several said that they were holding off on having children because they are worried about how their job will be affected if they do. Many women mentioned the strain placed on their work from other co-workers when they found out they were pregnant. "I was demoted after they found out I was pregnant. I lost my position after a very short maternity leave. I have been told straight up that I will not progress because I chose to have children over having my career be my main priority." One woman discussed her experience after having her second child. "When I was hired, they said they were familyfriendly; when I had my second child, I received nothing but negativity and hostility as I tried to care for her and work full-time." Of the 114 respondents who are parents or guardians, only 21 percent answered affirmatively that their theatre company or union had ever provided them with paid maternity leave.

Respondents who are not parents also commented on their worries of becoming parents in this industry. "We are not parents yet, but we are terrified of how we'll manage childcare with both of us working in a roadhouse. Unfortunately, because my husband makes more than I do and has health care, it will probably involve me either scaling back my gigs or leaving the industry altogether. Hopefully not, but we'll see." Others have made the conscious choice not to have kids. One person said, "I am deeply concerned that if I were to have children, it would negatively impact my career--that I would get fewer offers and opportunities. This is one reason why I am choosing not to have children" and another stated, "I don't have a family because of my career."
Respondents who are Parents/Guardians

Parent or Guardian           19%
Neither Parent nor Guardian  81%

Maternity Leave Availability Among Parents/Guardians

Maternity Leave Availability  21%
for Parents/Guardians
Maternity not Offered         79%

Note: Table made from pie chart.

Sources of Childcare

Ad-hoc babysitter  59%
Daycare center     53%
Full-time nanny    22%
In-home daycare    22%

Note: Table made from bar graph.

There is a clear struggle with balancing a family and a career, and a significant roadblock comes in the form of childcare. Of the 114 with children, 67 use an ad-hoc babysitter for regular workplace obligations, 60 use daycare centers, 25 use a full-time nanny and the same number use in-home daycare. Many respondents commented on the difficulty with working around childcare hours. Many also commented that their workplace would often plan to work late at the end of the day; giving them no alternatives for their childcare. A scenic artist commented, "my unwillingness to work late when not discussed until quitting time was not well received."

Building an Inclusive Industry

The research suggests two major areas in dire need of change: workplace environments and family support. Technical theatre has an obligation to uphold a positive workplace environment for all people and provide support for parents. Without this welcoming environment, we will lose countless artists and their skills, further shrinking the pool of theatre practitioners to a select few. By providing a welcoming and inclusive workplace, we can ensure that we are creating positive environments for talented artists to thrive. Two organizations, in particular, have made significant strides toward creating a more inclusive theatre industry for all. Their best practices can provide a model for theatre companies large and small to address equity, parity, and retention.

The UK-based Parents in Performing Arts (PIPA) campaign is a first of its kind, conducting research on challenges of careers in theatre and making extraordinary efforts to reshape how parents in the performing arts are supported. The organization argues that "lack of support and provision for caregivers in the Performing Arts is endemic, and, if not addressed, would continue to see many being forced to leave the industry after starting a family, leading to a loss of talent and further inequality in the Arts." In December 2016, PIPA collected survey data from 966 respondents to establish an accurate picture of the barriers and challenges facing theatre professionals who also have caring responsibilities. PIPA then worked with 15 U.K. partner theatres to test solutions to the challenges identified in the initial survey. The findings from this effort were released in December 2018. The PIPA Best Practice Research Final Report's models of equality and inclusive practices are a great starting point for theatre companies to create best practices for supporting employees who are also caring for children.

Among the practices are family friendly policies, creating welcome packs for freelance designers geared towards the artist parent, providing information on support and policies, and establishing contacts with childcare providers. PIPA's model also includes suggestions like providing breast-feeding facilities and areas for buggies to be stored, and enhancing maternity and paternity leave. PIPA also recommends the introduction of job-share roles for stage managers, flexibility with schedule changes in rehearsal and tech, and scheduling those rehearsals and performances to accommodate parents.

Similarly, the need for childcare solutions became apparent from the Millikin-sponsored research. According to respondents, there is a resounding need for childcare that is close in proximity and flexible in hours, due to the nature of theatrical work. Other suggestions included a community-built childcare co-op, a platform for employees to collectively hire and share childcare providers, childcare cost sharing, and even company-provided, on-site childcare, or higher pay to offset the costs of childcare that is required when working in this industry. (For specifics and resources on implementing these changes, see the PIPA website and its Best Practice Final Report.)

PIPA's Best Practice model offers employers an excellent guide and includes many steps that are significantly less resource-intensive than starting an on-site childcare facility. Childcare is mission essential because it has the capacity to reduce the conflict between career obligations and parental responsibilities. If a better system of childcare is not implemented, the theatre industry will lose countess talented and dedicated artists.

Regarding the broader issues of gender-based discrimination, Chicago-based Not in Our House--a group of more than 700 actors and other theatre professionals--has created a set of standards that offers a starting point for companies looking to refresh or implement policies. Not In Our House is a support group to deal with the aftereffects of abuse and to establish a code of conduct for non-Equity theaters. "We are working to build a support network, change existing language concerning discrimination, violence, intimidation, and sexual harassment, and ensure accessibility to proper complaint paths," according to the organization.

By 2015, several theatre artists were working together and completed the first draft of the Not In Our House code-of-conduct. Twenty-one theatre companies are part of the pilot group implementing the Chicago Theatre Standards (CTS), which details safe procedures for theatre companies --from stocking first-aid kits, to using safe words, to detailing and choreographing sexual assault and nudity when required by the production. In regards to sexual harassment, because EEOC covers "employees" only, the CTS creates a sample Concern Resolution Path, which details the steps a person can take when they have a concern. Not In Our House Founder Lori Myers notes that "the Conflict Resolution Path of the Chicago Theatre Standards helps set up a guideline for communication when the path of communication has reached a standstill and a conflict has come to fruition. CTS encourages this open line of communication that frontloads transparency from beginning to end, disclosure, and a mutual respect for codes of conduct." Also included are sample conversations to have in first rounds of introductions to establish the theatre's adherence to the Chicago Theatre Standards and to explicitly describe the approaches to conflict resolution and harassment reporting.

The Millikin research, in fact, revealed a clear need for an effective communication chain of command for resolving conflict as one practical means of addressing workplace discrimination. Not in Our House offers a step-by-step approach: "We recommend that a clear statement be read at each professional production's first company meeting outlining the procedure to file a complaint. The procedures and related contact numbers should be prominently posted on theatre and union/guild websites. We recommend that each union or guild designate a specific person to receive complaints. This person should be thoroughly educated and knowledgeable about the procedures and be prepared to guide victims to them and to appropriate support services." Much like an Equity Actor Deputy, Not in Our House argues that someone should be designated the first point of contact for the rest of the production team. From there, the chain of communication needs to be made clear.

Many of the responders to the Millikin survey talked about institutionalized harassment that adds up until it becomes intolerable. In addition to lacking a mechanism by which to report concern, they lacked a space to freely express their concerns. Mediation offers one solution. Not In Our House "recommends that, when appropriate, a mediation process overseen by a neutral professional be added to what the unions and guilds currently offer to parties in dispute over a claim of abuse or harassment." Mediation, as an approach to conflict resolution, offers both parties a safe space to talk and trained assistance with having difficult conversations.

These standards and structures are not simply the responsibility of professional-level theatres. Indeed, implementation should begin at the community and academic theatre level. Community and collegiate level theatres can begin their first rehearsal, production meetings, or all-company meeting stating that they have adapted the Chicago Theatre Standards and what exactly that means, including communication channels and conflict resolution policies.

Early training in these consciously inclusive approaches can help to change the industry. "We can only suggest that the CTS becomes a part of student vocabulary as they learn to transition into theatre outside of a collegiate setting. Representatives from the college can be available to assist in resolving conflict. Many institutions offer mediation in which professionals in this field can be called in to be a part of a mutual discussion between the point of contact and the student," says Myers.

No matter the setting, conversations and awareness need to be brought to the forefront. Production teams and management need to openly commit to more inclusive workplaces, and creating and disseminating policies and procedures such as the CTS or a local variation. Real change is possible and achievable, and it can start through early implementation of these and other simple solutions that acknowledge, name, and attempt to solve the potential barriers faced by our theatre colleagues. Many theatres and organizations are already fostering a more inclusive work environment for all. Without it, the industry will lose countless artists that bring skill, talent, and diverse voices. The theatre industry can only benefit from implementing these changes and best practices.

Works Cited

#NotInOurHouse. Chicago Theatre Standards.

#NotInOurHouse. Sample Agreements.

Cabanas, Alice. 7 Aug. 2013. "A Look Behind the Scenes." ArtsProfessional,

Ehnold-Danailov, Anna. "Prams In The Hall." Prams In The Hall,

Freestone, Elizabeth. 10 Dec. 2012. "Women in Theatre: How the '2:1 Problem' Breaks Down." The Guardian, Guardian News and Media,

Gardner, Lyn. 13 Oct. 2015. "Theatres Must Stop Discriminating against Parents." The Guardian, Guardian News and Media,

Hiltner, Elsa. 23 Nov. 2016. "A Call for Equal Support in Theatrical Design." HowlRound Theatre Commons,

Levitt, Aimee, and Christopher Piatt. 8 June 2016. "At Profiles Theatre the drama--and abuse--is real." Arts and Culture, Chicago Reader,

McGovern, Porsche. 7 July 2017. "Who Designs and Directs in LORT Theatres by Gender: Phase Three." HowlRound Theatre Commons, HowlRound,

"National Health and Wellness Fund Plan A. 1 Nov. 2012. " IATSE National Benefit Funds.

Purcell, Carey. 11 Aug. 2015. "Career or Children? Why Theatre Parents Feel Forced to Choose." Playbill, Playbill Inc.,

Raine, Cassie, and Anna Ehnold-Danailov. "Welcome to PIPA." Parents In Performing Arts, Artsphere Creative,

Wade Steketee, Martha, and Judith Binus. 2015. Women Count: Women Hired Off-Broadway 2010-2015. The League of Professional Theatre Women,


Caitlyn Garrity is a 2019 graduate from Millikin University in Decatur, IL, with a BFA in theatre design and production. This article is the culmination of her two-year honors program research project. With her advisor and professor Mary Black, she developed the survey and compiled the data on the experience of almost 600 women+ in technical theatre. Many thanks to her professors, peers, data analyst for this project, and most importantly, the respondents to the survey, without whom this research would not be possible. Garrity lived in Germany for 16 years as a military kid, and post-graduation she is spending the summer in Berlin working as a lighting technician.
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Author:Garrity, Caitlyn
Publication:TD&T (Theatre Design & Technology)
Article Type:Survey
Date:Jun 22, 2019
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