Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Some Observatons

by Melanie Beddie, Jane Woollard and Lucy Freeman | Wednesday December 16 2009 |

Regarding the need fo Equal Opportunity in Theatre Companies which are funded through the Australia Council ‘s Major Performing Arts Board (MPAB) .

The benefits of successful Equal Opportunity within the workplace are well documented and proven (see for instance the most recent submission from the Human Rights Commission to the Rudd Government).
Women directors are neither a minority group nor should they to be considered as constantly “emerging”. We cannot solve this problem whilst we continue to marginalise and trivialise the work of women theatre artists.

In our opinion a MPAB company which is unable to source, employ and collaborate with women in key creative roles in not functioning in a healthy and productive way. Nor are it’s current employees being given the opportunity to work with as wide a pool as possible of artists nor develop artistic relationships across the broadest range of practice .

MPAB companies have a narrow perception about what an artistic leader is, and as such the majority of work in
these companies is shared amongst a small pool of directors who have experience working within a narrow band of similar venues with similar budgets. Work on large-scale productions in the CCD sector, in fringe or unconventional venues, in touring productions or in the education sector, needs to be seen as professionally relevant to MPAB company expectations.

The mechanism for how directors get their initial ‘break’ in the MPAB companies needs to become clearer. Once working
within these companies, young directors can receive MPAB development funding to increase and strengthen their careers toward positions of greater responsibility. At present the beneficiaries of this in-house training model are overwhelmingly men between the age of 20-30. Thus it is possible to survey the Australian theatre landscape and ask the question ‘Where are the women?’ because they are invisible and not recipients of career guidance or promotion, what the Artistic Director of Malthouse Theatre has called ‘big opportunities.’

We believe women must be considered core business of any company and not relegated to special and
occasional funding programs. This ‘add-on’ version of equality has been tried before and has not changed the culture of the companies into which the women were placed. Rather it has meant that as soon as the funding program ceased so did the inclusion of women.

The MPAB companies’ lack of accountability to EO legislation has created a ‘bottleneck’ in career pathways for
women directors. The situation in the small to medium sector is entirely different .Subsidised by State and Federal project funding it has stringent criteria regarding EO and cultural diversity which all applicants must address in their proposals.

When a company begins to commit its core funding and programming to female creatives it will take the issue
seriously enough to effect permanent change.

Equal Opportunity policies which are thrust upon unwilling organisations have been shown to be ineffective.
Instead a willingness to engage with change and an enthusiasm for the opportunities for learning and expansion which arise from a more diverse workplace are the key to success in this area.

Equal Opportunity implementation here and overseas tells us that the proven road to success is twofold. There
must firstly be consultation with all stakeholders in the area .Secondly an essential element towards creating change in an organisation is that the genuine desire for a transformation must come from the highest level of management and in this case this would refer to Boards, General Managers and Artistic Directors.

So now some Proposals:

Due to their extensive research and personal experience female directors (and other creatives) are a vital
resource when developing policies regarding the placement, development and mentoring of women within larger organisations and as such it would be to the advantage of the companies to consult these artists.

We propose each company appoint an EO officer and that staff and the Board are given training in the area of EO
and diversity

We propose that each MPAB company needs to develop its own unique Strategic Plan which reflects the specific
interests and conditions of that company.

The Strategic Plan should set real and achievable targets for the coming year, three years and eight years etc.
This provides a series of benchmarks by which that company and stakeholders can then measure its progress. We believe that any additional funding should be attached to demonstrated and long term Strategic Plans and the success of these programmes measured and assessed.

Companies need to be required to report to their own Boards and also to MPAB about the continuing success of
their EO Policy

The Australia Council and MPAB need to take an active and ongoing role in supporting and monitoring EO in
funded companies. We ask that the Australia Council create programs that assist companies to reach and then maintain their EO targets.

Most importantly in addition to developing a Strategic Plan towards the development and advancement of women
within the organisation, the companies need to interrogate the existing company structure and culture and to assess whether these are working well for the encouragement of women into the organisation . It may be necessary to instigate corporate change in order to lead to more equal employment of both women and men within these MPAB companies.


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