More than 90 theatres unite in largest ever industry effort to address diversity

Leading theatres across England and Scotland have signed up to a ground-breaking new plan to address the lack of diversity in their workforce.

Developed by BECTU, the media and entertainment trade union, the new action plan has brought together more than 90 theatres and theatrical producers to increase diversity across the theatre workforce, from front-of-house teams to backstage staff.

BECTU’s approach follows Arts Council England publishing theatres’ equality data which revealed people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are under-represented, with figures as low as 5 per cent in some theatres in London for example, where 41 per cent of the population is minority ethnic.

The plan, launched today (November 27) by the Mayor of London at the English National Opera, provides theatres with step-by-step guidance to improve diversity, such as carrying out an accurate assessment of their current workforce, setting targets and improving recruitment processes.

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 Ambassadors’ Theatre Group, Delfont Mackintosh, Lloyd Webber theatres and Nimax. In addition to venues around England, 13 theatres in Scotland have also signed up including 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 said: “Rather than putting the onus on employers to address this issue alone we decided to assist them by using the best knowledge we had available – our members’ experiences. We asked reps 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 and locate new sources of 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. People with appropriate skills working outside mainstream theatre or in other industries – for example costume and wardrobe departments would be looking for those who make costumes or other clothing.

BECTU will support the theatres to share knowledge on successful approaches, to support an industry-wide push for a more representative workforce and measure the success of the initiative.

Head of BECTU 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 new initiative in partnership with the theatre industry is about continuing to strive for inclusive workforces across the creative industries.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “It is absolutely vital that people from all backgrounds are able to access the wide array of creative careers available in our theatres. 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.”

Arts Council England chief executive Darren Henley said: “We welcome the launch of BECTU’s first action plan for diversity in theatres focusing on increasing opportunities for BAME workers across both publicly subsidised and commercial theatres in England. The plan complements our own commitment to advancing equality and diversity across the arts and cultural sector for creative practitioners across all protected characteristic groups under the Equality Act and all socio-economic backgrounds. BECTU’s work will provide further advice and support for theatres to diversify their backstage, technical and administrative workforce.

“I’m delighted that our work at Arts Council England has served as a catalyst for BECTU to develop the plan, which has already received endorsement from over 90 arts organisations across the country creating an opportunity to significantly scale up initiatives to grow the off stage BAME talent pool across the theatre sector.”

Head of UK Theatre Cassie Chadderton said: “UK Theatre, the Society of London Theatre and BECTU share the aim of working with the theatre industry to increase the employment of under-represented groups.

“UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre support BECTU’s initiative as a series of signposts, actions and measures that our members may find useful as they go about recruiting and developing their workforce.

“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.”

English National Opera chief executive Stuart Murphy said: “English National Opera, is committed to reflecting the diversity of our society in our workforce, whether that’s on stage, in the pit or behind the scenes, and at all tiers of our organisation. As one of the country’s leading arts organisations we believe we have a duty to reflect the ethnic, gender, class, sexuality and disability status of those who help fund us. However, our commitment goes further than that.

“It’s important that an organisation’s culture reflects the make-up of its workforce, and this can only happen with the support of employees and unions such as BECTU. That’s why we are proud to support BECTU’s Theatre Diversity Action Plan, and look forward to working with the many partners who are supporting this initiative across our industry.”

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