Leading theatres across England and Scotland have signed up to a ground-breaking new plan by BECTU to address the lack of diversity in their workforce.
Developed over two years, the new action plan has brought together 100 theatres and theatrical producers to increase diversity across the theatre workforce, from front-of-house teams to backstage staff.
It was launched on 27 November, kindly hosted by the English National Opera. New BECTU head Philippa Childs was joined by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, actor Adrian Lester, Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah, UK Theatre head Cassie Chadderton, Chi-Chi Nwanoku for the Musicians Union, Geoff Summerton, the director of London Coliseum operations, plus over 100 guests from the theatre industry and the unions.
Leading theatres that have already signed up include the Royal Opera House, the National Theatre, the English National Opera, the Young Vic, Sadler’s Wells and major theatre groups including the Ambassador Theatre Group, Delfont Mackintosh, Lloyd Webber Theatres and Nimax.
In addition to venues around England, 15 theatres in Scotland have also signed up such as National Theatre Scotland, Scottish Ballet and major theatres in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee including those owned by Capital Theatres.
BECTU diversity officer Janice Turner, who developed the plan, said: “We led a campaign with the Federation of Entertainment Unions to persuade Arts Council England to publish the equality monitoring data of their client theatres. When they did so it revealed that in most theatres there was substantial under-representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) workers.
"But rather than simply demanding that the employers ‘do something’ about it on their own, we decided to assist them by using the best knowledge we had available – our members’ experiences.
"Over several months we had a dialogue with highly experienced theatre reps from English and Scottish theatres, along with members of BECTU’s black members’ committee, about the reality of theatre recruitment to establish how it really works.
“Once we had the information we were able to put together an informed plan of action for recruiters in theatres to help them take the right steps to ensure that the theatre industry reflects the society we live in. As theatres start to put the plan into action we will continue discussions with them about how they are best placed to continue pushing for progress.”
A key element is to unite theatres to go beyond their traditional means of recruitment to find talent. The union has invited the employers to join in a working group to identify new sources of BAME talent – dividing the work up and pooling the results. The search will include identifying areas where there are people with appropriate skills working outside mainstream theatre or in other industries.
The unprecedented, huge response from the industry means that BECTU will be looking at regional working groups.
Philippa Childs said: “BECTU has a proud history of championing diversity. We are delighted that our theatre diversity action plan has been accepted by both the funded sector and commercial theatres, because progress across the industry will widen the talent pool for all employers, making it easier for them to recruit, retain and promote BAME talent. Our initiative in partnership with the theatre industry is about continuing to strive for inclusive workforces across the creative industries.”
At the launch, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “BECTU should be congratulated on leading the way in uniting theatres in London and across the country to ensure their workforces are more representative, and I urge the creative sector as a whole to follow their example and increase access to these rewarding careers.”
Adrian Lester called it a “giant leap forward for theatre” and argued it should be applied to the wider creative industries. He told the Voice newspaper that he felt this action
plan would be a success where others have failed because: “This plan isn’t an observational data plan. It’s like a computer programme, what it says is, OK, do this – it’s a series of actions – do this, and when you’re done doing that now do this and when you’re done doing that, take those results – do this.”
BECTU’s plan is also supported by Arts Council England, while head of UK Theatre Cassie Chadderton said: “UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre support BECTU’s initiative ... A more inclusive workforce will lead to an industry that is more relevant to the UK as a whole, and to broader and more engaged audiences.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This plan is a major breakthrough. With most major theatre companies signing up, it’s the biggest multi-employer agreement with trade unions to tackle race discrimination.”
Equality and Human Rights Commission chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said: “It’s vital that the arts industry in Britain reflects the true diversity of our society and when we go to the theatre we should all see lives led by people like us. It’s great to see so many leaders come together to recognise this and take tangible effective steps to attract the widest possible talent.”
Arts and Entertainment assistant national secretary Helen Ryan is urging branches to “look on the BECTU website at the list of theatres that have signed up to the plan. If your theatre is listed, try to help your theatre to work through the plan. If it isn’t listed, encourage your theatre to sign up.”