Sunday, December 13, 2009

EO Policy change at MTC: AWDA's letter to the VC & the VC's reply

As you may know, the Melbourne Theatre Company has recently been asked, by the University of Melbourne, to appoint an Equal Opportunity Officer and Equal Opportunity Committee. They have also agreed that in future, all Associate Director positions will be advertised.

Prior to this change (and can we be so brazen as to say, a precursor to it?), Australian Women Directors Alliance wrote to the University of Melbourne's Vice-Chancellor, Glyn Davis, outlining concerns that as a department of the University of Melbourne, the Melbourne Theatre Company was failing to follow the Equal Opportunity Policy as required by the university.

Below is that letter and Mr Davis' response.

14th October 2009

Glyn Davis
Vice Chancellor
The Office of the Vice-Chancellor
The University of Melbourne
Victoria 3010

Dear Sir,

We write on behalf of the members of AWDA, a group of theatre practitioners incorporating sixty or more female directors and theatre makers. We range from emerging artists, in their first five years of practice, through to experienced and highly regarded directors in their third and fourth decade of practice. The alliance grew out of the Australia Council’s Australian Theatre Forum in March 2009 and our purpose is to offer professional development and networking opportunities for female theatre practitioners and to work in areas of advocacy for our members.

We have recently tried to engage in an open and genuine conversation with the Melbourne Theatre Company over what we see as a crisis in career opportunities for female theatre directors at that company. We wrote a letter to the Board (see attached) in which we did a number of things:

-We provided the Board with some statistics about declining opportunities for women over the last five years at the MTC

-We queried the success of their implementation of the University of Melbourne’s Equal Opportunity Policy

-We offered to begin a dialogue with the company in helping to address the problem of the lack of women employed in the company in key creative positions.

-We asked the MTC to take positive steps and adopt a leadership role given its position as a successful State Theatre Company

-We acknowledged the opportunities, which do already exist for women in the MTC Education Department and asked that these positions be considered as part of a pathway towards directing jobs with greater responsibility.

-We sought to understand how key creative positions are allocated in the company. Whether these positions are advertised for instance.

We feel that the response of the MTC Board (see attached) has been less than satisfactory as they have not chosen to engage with the issues we raised. We are also taken aback by the Board request for a list of our membership and hope that this was not intended as an act of intimidation.

The response from the Board does not seem aligned with contemporary attitudes towards equal opportunity in the workplace, although we note that your Equal Opportunity Policy offers;

"Cover for all training programs for staff with management responsibility, principles of equal opportunity and means towards its achievement”.

Additionally, the letter from the Board acknowledges that there has been no change in company policy since 2003, when this issue was last raised with them. Indeed the issue was also raised in 1993.

In their letter they define the method, if not the criteria by which employment is offered to directors. They believe that appointment of a directorial position should be merit based, decided by senior MTC personnel after viewing the work of potential directors. However they also acknowledge that gender equity for female directors is a problem occurring throughout several strata of the theatre industry, and in particular on these very stages that the work of directors is judged. We too are aware of this conundrum and hence our request to the MTC to put in place the ‘positive steps’ promised by their Equal Opportunity Policy.

We do not believe that the failure of equal opportunity in other medium-sized companies provides the MTC with an excuse to avoid employing women. Indeed it should suggest to the MTC that it can no longer rely on these other companies to train their main stage directors. Instead we suggest it may be more productive for the MTC to instigate structural changes that allow the company to have greater control over developing the kinds of directors it seeks.

We are in the main very disappointed that the Board of the MTC do not see themselves as being leaders of change in this area or having any role in promoting a culture that is inclusive of women.

We are now asking you to engage with us in a serious and respectful dialogue about how to proceed in making the MTC a genuine equal opportunity employer. We have also requested the assistance of the Australia Council, Arts Victoria and the Office of Women’s Affairs in this matter.

We would ask you to please acknowledge the receipt of this letter and also let us know a likely timeline for your considered response.

We look forward to understanding how you intend to proceed in this matter and also how we can assist you in understanding the issue from our perspective.

Yours sincerely

Melanie Beddie and Lucy Freeman

And one month later, a response:

17th November 2009

Dear Ms Beddie and Ms Freeman,

Apologies for the delay in providing this substantive reply, a result of time required to consult with various parties and secure an appropriate outcome. As you know, the University is very committed to equity and diversity in its workplace, and has established a Staff Equity and Diversity Framework 2008-2012 which is intended to guide the Equity and Diversity Plans of our faculties, divisions and departments.

Following receipt of your letter, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (University Affairs) Prof Warren Bebbington has met with the General Manager of the MTC, Anne Tonks, and as a result I am pleased to report that, at its next meeting, the Board of MTC will be asked to appoint an Equal Opportunity Officer and an Equal Opportunity Committee to take leadership of these issues at MTC. This Officer and the Committee will be charged with developing a plan for enhancing equal opportunity policies and practices aligned with the Company’s overall strategic plan. The University's Equal Opportunity Unit will arrange for the necessary staff training so that the Equity and Diversity Framework and its expectations are widely understood at MTC.

I can also report on some positive strategies to be put in place by the Board in the immediate future. The positions for Associate Directors, in the past filled without advertising, will henceforth be advertised and recruited through processes that meet best practice standards and comply with the University’s equal opportunity policies and with anti-discrimination legislation. The Company will also make an application to the Australia Council for a Young and Emerging Artists Grant to provide opportunities in 2010 to specifically develop young and emerging women Directors.

I am assured that the Company's request for a list of your members was not intended as an “act of intimidation,” but rather one intended simply to better inform the Company of women Directors available for work, in case there are those not known to them. However, I do understand the sensitivity of this issue. There may be better ways of informing MTC of women Directors who are available for engagement.

As you will have seen from our Framework (available on the university website), our goals for women's participation in employment for 2010-2012 are very broadly framed. However, I do hope the steps set out here assist in addressing your concerns.


Glyn Davis

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