Ellan - intro: I called this session because I'm interested in the idea of an industry-wide ‘code of good conduct’ which venues and companies could be encouraged to sign up to. The more companies sign up to it, the more pressure there is on other companies to follow suit. Of course there's the issue of how and if it could be enforced, but the very fact of its existence might encourage individuals to consider their behaviour and the behaviour of those around them. I see this as perhaps comparable to businesses signing up to Fair Trade or a commitment to reduce carbon footprint, run along more environmentally friendly lines etc… Ultimately the company's image is improved, awareness is raised, and the idea of being ethical, green etc becomes more normalised….

There was a lot of debate at this session as to whether or not such a code could work, what the point of it was etc, meaning that we didn't really get as far as putting down what might actually go in such a code. I would be very interested in pursuing this further and having a go at writing such a code, and I think the more voices can contribute the better. Please get in touch via Improbable or message me or Louise on here if you'd be interested in meeting up next month to have a go….

Louise's report:

The group didn’t spend much time discussing the details of what would constitute a code of conduct. Much of the discussion was around 4 main issues: Types of bullying that occur, sources of resistance or complicating factors within the industry that encourage or fail to address bullying, types or methodologies for tackling bullying (topdown versus grassroots, who is responsible for action), and current and potential tools and strategies.

The topic flowed between specific bullying and non bullying discriminatory behaviour and work environment issues. Why and how these issues are conflated with more obviously bullying behaviour may be worth discussing.

What kinds of bullying occur?

Discrimination in casting based on physical appearance/attributes was initially raised, and the personal impact this can have on performers. While it is not strictly bullying behaviour, it was suggested that as gatekeepers, casting directors potentially have a lot of power to change and influence policy, as well as being a potential target area for anti bullying work.

We discussed cast dynamics and power struggles as a source of bullying. Peer or twin bullying occurs where two or more people collude to bully or ostracise someone, and where there are other factors at work in that dynamic besides the desire to bully the individual – eg reinforcing peer dynamics, establishing or asserting power. Sideways bullying is a situation where, for example, a “star” bullies a director. If there is a conflict in the cast or crew it’s generally the job of the director or stage manager to sort it out, (depending on the type of company arrangement), but when it’s the director or management bullying, there is the sense that it needs to be dealt with higher up, and that managerial collusion or silence is frequently necessary for it to continue . A suggested cause of bullying, by directors or senior people specifically in the examples discussed, is the need to cover up weaknesses.

There may be a link between non equitable rehearsal processes and bullying. There was discussion about group dynamics generally and ideal “alternative” work approaches, arising from a mention of age parity or ageism as a factor in bullying. The “tribal ethos” and the ways in which the casting demands of a production subvert that by, for example, having a group of younger people and an older person (who is considered a peer for rehearsal purposes), can sometimes affect the dynamic of a group.

Who is responsible? What underlies how we address the problem?

The power of numbers – how much combined power does a cast have to address bullying among them or toward members, and how can it be amplified? Is it strengthened if there is a precommitment by the group to address it? One reason for not addressing bullying is to claim that as an artistic industry it either doesn’t occur, or that it is necessary for the creative process. We had a brief discussion of the arts as a business where the drive to profit overrules considerations of ethics. Opponents of anti bullying can argue that the industry isn’t “corporate” enough to be able to address bullying, or that it is too “corporate” to be likely to. Performers and other creatives have a low level of industrial power in terms of theatre as a business, but ethics should be important irrespective of power. A participant mentioned that throwing someone through a door is a criminal offence – the creative arts are not exempt from workplace law, but the perception of the industry as “creative” could be one of the factors that lead to underreporting and underacknowledgement.

There was a sense that having a code was a gesture of an ideology rather than an enforceable tool (such as a contract), and that there were strengths and weaknesses inherent.

Much of the discussion was consolidated as one concerning the benefits of divergent approaches: “top down” vs “grassroots”. Both are possible simultaneously, but that sometimes the differences in approach and underlying ideology work against the commonality of the aim.

If a code or bullying guidelines within a company exist, we recognise the need for people on the ground prepared to implement it. Some participants felt that some HR are there to implement management goals. Management have ultimate responsibility for enforcing any codes or grievance procedures – if a code exists, sometimes it may not be enforced because the people responsible or the management are directly terrified of the bully or stayed by the threat of influence or power of the bully. Targets, ratings, focus groups and management reliance on them are in these cases sometimes an indirect factor in the presence or continuation of bullying.


An area of resistance is the “fetishisation” of bullying in the arts – calling it creativity, diva behaviour, etc, anything other than naming it as bullying. There was a connection, suggested by Ellan, between an acceptance of bullying behaviour and the fear of dampening creativity by applying too much formalism, too many rules, and that consequently, creativity is often seen as synonymous with bullying behaviour – that if you curtail one, you will stifle the other.

Lessons from workshops: having a freer working structure means different requirements, and equality is going to be different for every group. How does a code address the variance in group structure in a way that is practical?

Short term contracts are not suited to a standard grievance procedure – sometimes by the time you identify the bullying, the chance to follow a standard grievance procedure is passed, or a 3 week run changes the cost/benefit analysis of dealing with one specific incidence. This is probably a factor in underreporting, and may be a factor in entrenched bullying where the weight of evidence against an individual is not able to be accumulated.

Current and potential tools

There is a current equity handbook of practice – what are the current guidelines on bullying?

Billy noted that Equity can currently offer a form of mediation.

One discussion was around a desire for “non-judgemental” mediation which deals with the difficult and energy sapping aspects of dealing with bullying on a personal level, and the need to “wall off” the behaviour or situation to continue to work. “Non-judgemental” mediation suggests a type of mediation where the primary focus is on assisting members to cope better and to assist in mediation with the bullies as a secondary focus or where necessary/appropriate. (This may also be relevant to a later mention of the problem of short contracts making it impractical to deal with the bullying through a formal process.)

A suggestion arising from the discussion of group dynamics in bullying was to look at ways of reducing the pressure and stress that leads to atypical bullying (ie, people who are generally not bullies but respond in that way under stress)

A counterargument to the “anti bullying behaviours will kill the creativity” was presented in the example of a production Ellan and James were involved in, where a “pledge to be decent” among the company had the effect of allowing individuals to be more aware of their own behaviour, and their part in the collective responsibility undertaken by the group to safeguard the cooperative working environment.

One possible benefit of the “pledge to be decent” approach is that in having a part in creating the environment and seeing it modelled, individuals are more able and empowered to promote and disseminate techniques and ideas that work through other companies as they take up new contracts, allowing an anti bullying energy and belief to spread organically.

Is there any correlation between bullying and company structures that are created as non-cooperative? Will different company structures and perhaps anti-auteur approaches to the creative arts remove opportunities for bullying without having to address individual behaviour and attitudes?

Another suggestion was a two way reference system that enables individuals to check the reputation of employers and vice versa. A possible way of dealing with bullying by senior staff is to lobby boards of companies with known and serious offenders.

Billy raised the planned Federation of Entertainment Unions symposium in November - to be preceded by a questionnaire specifically on the topic of bullying sent out to all Equity members. They may have planned to work towards a code of practice there to recognise and challenge bullying and to enforce the right to dignity at work, and to acknowledge that bullying suppresses artistic freedom and crushes careers. There was a vote to include bullying as a topic which was passed unanimously (not sure if it was FEU or Equity meeting though).

What would be the feasibility of including ground rules for dealing with instances of bullying in the contract? The advantage is a legally enforceable procedure which the code of conduct doesn’t provide. This could work in a similar way to the regional benchmark for pay or the ITC (?) “ethical” contract.

Possible indicators of bullying to include in a code of conduct: shouting, (physical violence), rudeness, threats (“You’ll never work again”). Association of the creative process with bullying is in itself a weapon to silence and continue bullying.

Contraindicators: listening, not relating a play to your personal lives (the significance was lost on me as a non industry person). Being prescriptive versus starting by meeting and agreeing, using this approach in company, in recruiting, in direction – eg allowing experimentation vs being prescriptive or saying “don’t do that”. Cooperation is coming up a lot at this point – someone questioned whether big companies were able to do it. How do you promote a code? Being proactive and talking, across the industry, to colleagues, about what is good practice. The enticement of the security of knowing you can show up for work knowing you will not be bullied.

I was wondering if the people interested in the Code of Conduct discussion might find it useful to look at the summary prepared by Dinah Rose QC when she was reporting on the BBC bullying issue?

The website is here: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/aboutthebbc/insidethebbc/howwework/reports/bbcreport_dinahrose_respectatwork.pdf and see pages 11-13 – I thought the headings might make useful pointers for the document we were discussing?

Anne-Marie Quigg