Advance programme addresses gender imbalance in the arts

A number of top UK performing arts companies have pledged to address gender inequality within their organisations. Led by Tonic Theatre, the Advance programme’s goal is to help companies understand the root causes of their gender imbalances and create solutions.

This year nine companies took part including Northern Ballet, National Theatre, Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells. The scheme was piloted in 2014, with eleven participants including Young Vic, Royal Shakespeare Company, Tricycle Theatre and Headlong.

‘Advance is about slowing things down: taking a few months to dig into their questions and really understand the intricacies of the problem and trying to untangle some of the knots,’ said director of Tonic Theatre Lucy Kerbel. Tonic Theatre was established in 2011, with the goal of helping the arts and creative industries address gender imbalance issues.

Six key insights were identified by Advance 2016 : that the perception of gender equality isn’t a problem; that performing arts careers are fragile; that companies often lack clear structures; that career trajectories are unclear; that women often have jobs on the periphery of organisations away from centres of power; and that inequality in the wider world affects the performing arts sector.

The programme also identified five areas that participating companies can now focus on: gathering more information and data on gender; addressing unconscious bias; creating more symbiotic relationships with artists and freelancers; applying the same level of thought and rigour to the employment of freelancers as to salaried staff; and working collectively to achieve change.