D&D satellite: What can we do to support and represent awesome women in the arts?
Thursday 26th September 2019

What crossover is there between women in the arts and women in politics and what can they learn from each other?

This session was called by Producer Hannah Tookey to discuss the similarities and differences between women’s roles in the arts and in politics. It is part of a wider creative project that Hannah is developing about women’s experiences in politics.

The ideas that came out of this session are as follows:

1) In both politics and the arts, women in leadership roles can often be seen to be “representing all women” which has both positive and negative implications. Positively, they can share their own stories and use the opportunity to advocate for better representation and structures to support other women. However, the other side of this is that if a woman in a leadership role makes a mistake or “fails” then this is often taken as an example of all women’s faults and has been used to argue, incorrectly of course, that women’s leadership skills are lacking. The contrast is that men are mostly seen to just be representing themselves, and a man’s actions are usually not taken as being indicative of all men’s actions. This is likely due to women still taking up the minority of leadership positions in both politics and the arts. This means that when a woman does take up a leadership role, the expectations on her are higher than they would be for a man, as people are waiting to see “what a woman can do”.

The Glass Cliff Effect was noted:

“The glass cliff is a relative of the “glass ceiling” — a metaphor for the invisible, societal barrier that keeps women from achieving the highest positions in business, politics, and organizations. The glass cliff is a twist on that: Women are elevated to positions of power when things are going poorly. When they reach the upper ranks of power, they’re put into precarious positions and therefore have a higher likelihood of failure, meaning there’s a greater risk for them to fall.” – Vox

There are numerous examples of the Glass Cliff Effect within politics, but we couldn’t recall any clear examples of this within the arts.

2) Men are much more likely than women to put themselves forward for jobs. A report by Hewlett Packard found that men will apply for a role if they meet 60% of the criteria, whereas women will apply if they meet 100% of the criteria. This means that we are likely to see more applications from men, and therefore statistically, a man may have a higher chance of being chosen for a job. We discussed the importance of helping women to grow their confidence to put themselves forward for opportunities.

It’s also worth taking note of how men and women may present themselves differently in interview situations. Hannah shared an experience of recruiting a director for a theatre production where she interviewed 1 man and 6 women. It was striking that all of the women came with flexible, open ideas about what the production could look like, whereas the man came with a very clear, set vision for the production. This gave the impression that the women didn’t understand the play as well or perhaps weren’t as suited to it, and we hired the man as a result. In hindsight, this difference in presentation may be down to differing levels of confidence; did the man feel confident enough to just put his one vision forward and was the women’s more open approach a sign of not wanting to take a risk in an interview? This could just be a coincidence but knowing that the quality of work of the 7 directors was all of a similar standard, this is something that I will be keeping in mind for future interviews.

Ideas for creating more equal opportunities for women in applications and interviews:
- expressly encouraging women to apply for roles by stating this in call outs
- using positive discrimination to ensure that you’re inviting equal numbers of women to interview as men
- sharing questions in advance to allow women to prepare thoroughly and to feel more confident in an interview setting

3) The arts and politics can both be hostile environments for women.

4) The arts and politics both require money to access. Both industries are dominated by middle class, wealthy people. Both can require extensive financial support and networks to be able to break into, which women are statistically less likely to have access to. There are bursaries and campaigns in most political parties to encourage more women to enter, but there is relatively little available specifically for women to enter the arts.

The arts in the UK is very London-centric. It requires a certain level of financial stability in order to live in London and pursue a career in the arts. This can come from higher levels of income, or of course often through family support to live in the city, or by living with a partner to keep costs down. On average, women earn less than men which makes accessing a career in the arts more difficult for women and proportionally more expensive in relation to their income.

5) The idea of women as “God’s obedient rib” was raised which led to a discussion about how women are perhaps more likely to be less hierarchical in nature or to prefer more ensemble-led and collaborative structures of working. This could then lead to fewer women assuming what are traditionally seen as ‘leadership’ roles, purely because they aren’t ‘head’ of something, even if they started it. This is perhaps more relevant to the arts were more collaborative styles of working tend to exist than currently do within politics.

6) Both the arts and politics are viewed as being representative of society / the people, both in the policies they advocate for and the stories they tell. It’s important that there is strong and equal representation of women in both.

7) Women’s appearances in both industries are important. In politics, women are scrutinised for what they wear, with even Theresa May receiving multiple newspaper writeups about her shoes. The media very rarely take note of what men wear. If you don’t look the part in politics, then you won’t be taken seriously, but even if you do dress smartly, you’re still open to receiving criticism.

It was also noted that women who have risen to the top in politics tend to have a typically more ‘masculine’ appearance with short hair being a key feature of numerous women politicians (Hilary Clinton, Theresa May, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel etc…) and how perhaps looking more masculine could encourage people to feel that they are stronger leaders and more trustworthy. Though we did note that there are women politicians who don’t follow this look and are very successful, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jacinda Arden.

Politics as performance > do women avoid it because of this potential scrutiny on their appearance?
Appearance as one of the peripheral signs of communication – if you want your message to be taken seriously then you need to dress for it.

Women’s appearances within the arts are scrutinised just as much, if not more so, than in politics, with many women having their weight commented on by reviewers, having their looks criticised in the media, and being seen as less professional if they are not wearing make-up. It was noted that wearing makeup in many professions is often equated with being more powerful by others and that this leads many women to feel that they need to wear makeup in a professional setting. It’s also typically seen as a benefit for women to be young and pretty in the arts, particularly so for actors, but this doesn’t necessarily translate to other roles, as young producers are often not taken as seriously as their counterparts, and young women in politics (and other professions) can be criticised for being “naïve” purely due to their age.

8) Single women / mothers have a harder time breaking in. Both careers require a network of support to break into, with long and often anti-social hours. It’s more difficult for single parents (who are disproportionately women) to take on roles that require such long hours. Women are also typically paid less than men, which means it is more difficult for them to afford childcare.

The tax system also encourages marriage which discriminates against single people and parents.

Women spend more time looking after children than men do (and it was acknowledged that this can often be because the men earn more so it may make for financial sense for women to choose to stay at home in heterosexual relationships). Even in relationships where both parents work similar hours, women still spend more time on housework and childcare. This often means that men have more time to think and explore ideas freely, whereas women are often fitting creative projects and other pursuits around their work, childcare and life admin.

Being unmarried in politics is also seen as a disadvantage, as Hillary Clinton has discussed before; she was asked to wear a wedding ring and to marry Bill Clinton when he was running for President as concern was raised amongst voters about them not being married. This doesn’t seem to be the case within the arts.

9) In the industry for power. It was discussed that many men enter politics for the power aspect, but that this is perhaps less likely to be their motivation in the arts. However, more men are in the traditional ‘power role’ in the arts as Artistic Directors than women are.

- vote for women
- hire women
- share and celebrate women’s achievements
- check your own bias: are you judging women more harshly than you are men? It could be useful to look at Unconscious Bias training.
- use positive discrimination to help achieve a more balanced industry where women are proportionally represented in leadership and other roles
- watch shows, read scripts and listen to speeches by women
- try to make recruitment processes as open and transparent as possible to allow women to have the best chance possible of succeeding (see interview tips earlier).
- don't judge women for things that we don't judge men for e.g. appearance, being single or unmarried
- allow women the opportunity to succeed: put them in positions of leadership when things are going well and where they can do their best (i.e. not purely in times of crisis)

A great book recommendation that came from today’s session was Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez.