New Study Investigates Why Few Women Hold Leadership Positions in Theatres

News   New Study Investigates Why Few Women Hold Leadership Positions in Theatres The Wellesley Centers for Women and the American Conservatory Theater share their preliminary findings.
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Lisa McNulty, Artistic Director of the Women's Project Theater Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The American Conservatory Theater has released the findings from the Women’s Leadership in Residential Theaters research study conducted by the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), one of the largest gender-focused research and action organizations in the world. Commissioned by ACT, the study’s mission was to investigate why so few women, and particularly women of color, hold the top leadership positions in nonprofit theatres, and what can be done to increase that statistic.

Lynne Meadow, Artistic Director of MTC
Lynne Meadow, Artistic Director of MTC Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The study found that there is a glass ceiling in place for women and people of color; they can achieve “Next-In Line” positions, but cannot reach artistic and executive director positions as frequently as white men. These positions are also few and far between with a very slow turnover.

The reason there are so few women heading LORT theatres is not a question of merit; rather, it is a question of trust. Board search committees are less frequently willing to trust that women are capable of being at the helm. The research also indicated that theatres with large budgets were more likely to trust a man with small-budget experiences than a woman.

As in other industries, the study found that extensive travel and long, irregular hours can be barriers against caregivers, who tend to be women, which could lead to biases affecting the hiring or promotion process. A woman was more likely to be promoted into a leadership opening if she was already employed with the theatre and familiar to the members of the selection committee.

The findings also concluded that mentors who were women or people of color were in short supply, which was something affecting career progression, and that there existed the expectation, grounded in a stereotype, of what a theatre leader needs to look like: historically, white and male.

How the study was conducted: 998 surveys regarding the artistic side of the theatre were collected from members of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC), and 333 surveys pertaining to management and operations side were collected from managers and their immediate staff members at Theatre Communications Group-affiliated theatres. In addition, researchers conducted 97 interviews with artistic and executive directors, and people on the pathway to leadership, from a randomly selected sample of 24 LORT theatres.

Researchers also held extensive conversations with 30 leaders in the theatre industry, including board and trustee members from a variety of theatres, and all of these findings were augmented by data collected from TCG and LORT archives.

“With our longstanding commitment to research and action on women’s leadership, the commission from A.C.T. was an exciting opportunity for us to learn about the scarcity of women and particularly women of color in theater leadership,” commented senior scholar Sumru Erkut and research associate Ineke Ceder from the WCW in a press statement. “We hope that our research-based recommendations will move the dial on women’s leadership.”

The complete report will be available at the end of December. The executive summary can be found at wcwonline.org/theaterleadership.

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