Women’s Leadership in the Non-Profit Theatre: Continuing Actions to Shift the Perception

Posted by Kristen van Ginhoven, Apr 20, 2017 0 comments

In 2013, the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) partnered with American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) to study gender equity in leadership opportunities in the non-profit American theatre.

Women have never held more than 27% of leadership positions in American non-profit theatre. Why? In a field in which “representation” is important to the stories we present to the public, the persistent underrepresentation of female leadership is puzzling and problematic.

Non-profit arts organizations are mandated to serve the general public. The goal of gender equity in leadership is an urgent issue, especially considering this mandate and the opportunities and benefits diverse leadership creates.

The research was able to unravel some of the reasons behind leadership gender imbalance through a multi-informant and multi-method design, which made clear that the issue is not a pipeline problem. There are sufficient numbers of women in next-in-line positions in the field. Action plans that address this “glass ceiling” need to be developed to correct the disparity.

To that end, as an action to help shift the perception of women in leadership positions in the non-profit theatre, WAM Theatre is hosting the pilot Berkshire Leadership Summit in October 2017. This summit serves as another step in the national conversation about gender equity in leadership opportunities in the non-profit American Theatre.

This pilot Berkshire Leadership Summit—an event for women aspiring to leadership positions in the non-profit theatre in both artistic and operational tracks—will be held October 28-29, 2017, at Shakespeare & Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Performing Arts Center in Lenox, MA.

This Summit is informed and supported by the research that A.C.T. commissioned from WCW. The results of this research study were presented at the Women’s Leadership Conference at A.C.T. in San Francisco in August 2016. As WAM’s Artistic Director, I was an early supporter of the study and attended the conference.

Inspired by the findings of the research study and the conversations at that conference, a steering committee met and joined forces at the August 2016 Women’s Leadership Conference in San Francisco to organize the first pilot Berkshire Leadership Summit. The steering committee for the Berkshire Leadership Summit is Akiba Ababa, audience development manager at ArtsEmerson (Boston); Rachel Fink, Managing Director at Theatre Bay Area (San Francisco); Shafer Mazow, Senior Grants Manager at The Exploratorium (San Francisco); and myself.

This inaugural two-day, in-person Summit will provide deep dive, nuts-and-bolts sessions to examine four areas that female theater professionals identified as main barriers to leadership positions in the WCW research study:

  • Fundraising—e.g. the ability to go from a $200,000 company to a $2,000,000 company
  • Producing—e.g. the ability to produce a high-budget event from the ground up
  • Relationship Building—e.g. the opportunity to meet the people who work at the theatres that will hire you for leadership positions
  • Awareness Building/Creating Opportunity—e.g. the ability and agency to shift the consciousness and perception around women and leadership

The Berkshire Leadership Summit has three central aims: 1) To provide participants with an experience that grows their network of allies; 2) to enrich vocabulary that supports the current industry while advocating for their future as women leaders; and 3) to expand skill sets that improve their path to leadership.

The Summit also will offer shorter working sessions around other areas identified as barriers to leadership in the study and at the conference.

Recently the Summit steering committee conducted a survey that received more than 300 responses from target participants and indicated a desire for the working sessions to include discussions around strategic planning, identifying and articulating qualities that distinguish summit participants as leaders, and directly addressing intersectionality and the complexities of diversity.

The Summit acknowledges that gender discrimination is a complex topic. As a first step, this inaugural Summit is targeted to people who navigate the field as women (e.g. transgender, cisgender, gender non-conforming) in early to mid-career who are theatre professionals on the path to leadership. More information can be found at www.wamtheatre.com/berkshire-leadership-summit-2017.

This post was written with input from the Steering Committee of the pilot Berkshire Leadership Summit.

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