In the spirit of our Newsletters I thought it would be useful to share what these Principles look and feel like through the eyes of a non- white freelance company stage manager currently working in UK theatre. All opinions, observations and thinking shared below are my own and I acknowledge that other freelancers from the Global Majority have had different experiences. I am offering my perspective and would welcome conversation.
1 Everyone is responsible for creating and maintaining an inclusive workplace that is positive and supportive.
As CMs and SMs on productions I believe we are in a privileged position to set the tone of the day -to- day working environment on a production.
Kindness is the driving force for me. I endeavour to give each member of a company equal time, regardless of their perceived status. And if I disagree with something I am asked to do, because I believe it will cause harm, I will always question my employers in the same way I would expect my practice or conduct to be questioned.
2 We recognise that harassment or discriminatory language or behaviour may be unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.
Just don’t do it and don’t use it is the simple way to interpret this for me, be we know it happens. Bullying has been and is very present in my career, I have been at the receiving end of it, witnessed it and stayed quiet, and have most probably made others feel bullied. I know that the Equality Act is the law and is there to protect, but I have never really felt that our sector thought it applied to them. Perhaps these principles being made visible will aid a change in this.
3 We will explicitly address and seek to prevent racism and all other forms of discrimination and bias, their manifestations and effects.
Well good it’s about time, but who are the ‘we’? Not every Organisation/Employer is doing the work to acknowledge that this may already be embedded in their organisations. Some are and those are the places I choose to work. And then how do we ensure that this learning is shared and upheld by the freelancers. If freelancers continue to be, 70% of the workforce how do we ensure they have access to the re-education required to recognise their own individual discrimination and bias. I was lucky enough to be working inside an institution for 6 months that gave me access to that education but I know that this isn’t the norm.
4 Those of us who are employers accept our responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 and the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Is this our opportunity as Freelancers to encourage and embed good practices into the organisations who employ us? By using the 10 Principles as a tool to start conversations with our employers.
5 We do not tolerate bullying, harassment or discrimination on any grounds, and will ensure that processes are in place for the reporting and investigation of these serious issues.
But we do though don’t we? In my opinion we are a sector who live in fear of shouty producing giants, a sector who platform and promote abusers, a sector who allows and defends unlawful behaviour in the name of Creativity and Art. Reporting and Investigation only works when freelancers feel that telling the truth won’t compromise their employability or future career prospects. Telling the truth about compromising behaviour has most certainly cost me work.
6 We recognise that bullying, harassment and discrimination can have significant adverse impacts on the productivity, long-term physical and mental health and well-being of affected people and we will work to eradicate it. This will mean providing adequate protection for complainants and victims, and, where bullying, harassment or discrimination is found to have occurred, taking appropriate action against the perpetrators.
I think about this a lot, how do we do this in a sector that is so small and co- dependant? I don’t think it is as straightforward offering (or any) Human Resources in individual organisations. All roads for me lead to an independent body.
7 We value inclusivity, appreciate difference, encourage self-education and consider people equal without prejudice or favour. We build relationships based on mutual respect. We will all work to give and receive feedback in a constructive way, which we know will improve creativity and productivity.
In my heart I would love this to be true of all for all. Many employers, organisations and individuals, inclusivity manifests as a performative, box ticking action. It has taken me a while to recognise it. I recognise it in availability checks from companies who pre May 2020 would never use me, I recognise it in silence from producers and people that did employ me pre May 2020. I see it in my Black, Brown and global majority colleagues being in demand and being put in unnecessarily compromising situations in the spirit of performative diversity. I hear it in their tired but determined voices.
8 We understand that reporting bullying, harassment or discrimination can be intimidating. If anyone comes forward to report any of this behaviour we will endeavour to make the process of reporting clear and straightforward, investigate objectively and respect confidentiality where possible. Individuals who have made complaints or participate in good faith in any investigation into bullying, harassment, or discrimination should not suffer any form of reprisal or victimisation as a result.
Until I see this in action successfully, I do not trust it. I believe we don’t have clear, consistent sector- wide framework to ensure that individuals can confidently report and know what the continued process will be.
9 We will respect each other’s dignity and differences, regardless of the seniority of our role in an organisation.
I think this as a concept is fabulous and definitely how I endeavour to work with people, but as the pandemic showed us, the differences don’t just lie in human characteristics. The difference between employed and self - employed has highlighted underlying failures in the way we function and employ as a sector.
10 As we continually work to better understand, develop and deliver this work, those of us who are employers commit to paying professionals with lived experience and/or specialist knowledge in these areas to advise us.
I believe this is happening, however I would like to point out, having Black, Brown or any other non- white skin colour does not make you an expert in restructuring an organisation’s attitude to EDI, or an expert in delivering Anti -Racism policies. Yes, some of us have an interest because it makes going to work everyday less of an obstacle course. And I am very grateful for the odd £100 to sit in rooms and discuss change, but having to evidence our lived experience of Racism in this sector comes at a great cost. I determined to keep doing this to ensure those coming through are able to Thrive and Be.
SOLT and UK Theatre expect all theatre organisations to abide by these principles, display them in their workplaces, communicate them to all staff and visitors, undertake training for all contracted staff to ensure everyone understands the meaning behind them and put in place robust procedures to deal with breaches of the principles.
Can’t wait to see it.