Ashley Smith-Hammond

Culture Republic looks at Scotland's cultural sector through the lens of the International Women's Day mission: celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and accelerating gender parity.

Today is an especially relevant International Women’s Day. This year marks the 100th anniversary of women (or, rather, women aged over 30) getting the vote in the UK. Plus, in the past twelve months we’ve crossed the Me Too and Time’s Up rubicons. Accordingly, we wanted to look at our sector through the lens of the International Women’s Day mission: celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and accelerating gender parity.

The rest of the piece will pull together inspiration from within Scotland’s cultural sector and practical steps to increase equality that you can take right away.

CELEBRATing Achievements

I am grateful every day to live in a country that can boast two major women-focused, women-lead cultural organisations. Today I invite you to celebrate Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) and Stellar Quines with me. They are unique in their offer, not just in Scotland but in the whole of the UK, and exceptional in their quality of output.

  • GWL in their own words: “the only Accredited Museum in the UK dedicated to women’s lives, histories and achievements, with a lending library, archive collections and innovative programmes of public events & learning opportunities.”
  • Stellar Quines in their own words: “an award winning Scottish theatre company that celebrates the value and diversity of women and girls by making brilliant theatre, provoking change, nurturing artists and empowering participation.”

I encourage all of you, even if you think you know them, to check out the current work of these two extraordinary organisations and get yourself out to see it and be part of it.

Also worth celebrating: Scotland boasts an excellent online network, Women in the Arts Scotland for women working in the arts and culture. It exists so that women in the sector can support, learn from and amplify each other.

ACCELERATING GENDER PARITY – what you can do

Join the campaigns for equality. #metoo is about shining a light on sexual harassment and bullying. It has rocked the worlds of politics, comedy, journalism, film, sport, theatre and visual art. #timesup is about demanding productive change to move toward greater justice.

Get to know the numbers. Arts Professional pulled together a sexual harassment and bullying survey in the wake of the Weinstein allegations. The results make for disquieting reading. Exploitative behaviour is strongly present and normalised in the cultural sector. 80% of respondents were aware of harassment having taken place and almost half (48%) had personal experience of this harassment. Less than half of respondents (42%) knew their organisation had a sexual harassment policy in place. Data is crucial to making the case so we need to make sure we have it to interrogate. A lack of data is another kind of silence.

Data is the most incredibly powerful tool for uncovering unconscious bias, and for convincing people that it’s there, and you can do something about it.

Tell more stories about women’s experience. I was electrified by this data-driven research from Google Labs and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media showing men on screen are seen and heard nearly twice as often as women (36% on-screen time, 35% speaking time). Davis stated, “data is the most incredibly powerful tool for uncovering unconscious bias, and for convincing people that it’s there, and you can do something about it”. Want more proof? The Pudding did a similar analysis on film dialogue, concluding that “white men dominate movie roles”. This no duh conclusion aside, the tables are beautiful examples of data visualisation and are extremely compelling.

The above data is drawn from the screen industries, but when you start running the numbers such results resonate across artforms. It’s a truth you can see in other results. In the visual arts women artists make less money for their work. On stage, Natalie Cutler recounts how her feminist work struggles to be programmed outside of International Women’s Day (I see the irony of the inclusion of such a detail in this particular piece). In literature male authors are more likely to write worlds with mostly men whereas female authors are more likely to write worlds with a mix of men and women.

Get your policies right and stick to them. In the wake of the Weinstein allegations in October 2017, Vicky Featherstone convened a working group on sexual harassment at the Royal Court Theatre. By November, she’d published the results of this collaboration in an industry Code of Behaviour to prevent sexual harassment and abuses of power, along with the theatre’s own harassment and bullying policy. It’s not a bad place to start if you’re looking for a model policy. Equity has recently committed to holding employers to account if they fall down on enforcement of sexual harassment policies.

How to improve the numbers? Your organisation can commit to 50/50 efforts on board parity, 50/50 representation or 50/50 commissioning and programming as in this music festivals initiative. Your organisation could go one better and commit to non-binary gender diversity. You could work on closing the gender pay gap through the use of transparency on wage scales, or provide access to childcare so working parents (often mums) are able to balance work with caring responsibilities. Finally, you could consider the Frances McDormand-endorsed inclusion rider in your future contracts stipulating a minimum level of diversity within a team delivering a project.

Algorithms are not neutral. Facebook gained some notoriety for censoring breastfeeding as obscene content and now Instagram is getting in on the game of censoring progressive content. And did you know that facial recognition software has a built-in gender and racial bias, right?

Finally, get yourself right. Here’s a handy guide to not being a sexual harasser. All you need to know can be found in the promise she lays out from the start: “by following this one simple rule, you too can interact with women as people. It’s as clear-cut as this: Treat all women like you would treat Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.” File under: life hack, visualisation and funny because it’s true.

Main image credit: Women's March on Washington by Justine Warrington (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)