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Survey finds pandemic continues to impact female workers, with numbers in the workforce falling and opportunities diminishing.

Female director giving feedback on a scene to two actors in a theatre by
Many of those surveyed described 'risk averse' programming by theatres as disproportionately affecting female employees

Suzanne Strong

More than 80% of women working in theatre continue to be affected by repercussions of the pandemic, a study has found.

The latest Women in Theatre Survey, an Arts Council England-funded follow-up to a survey undertaken in 2021, also found that more than 60% of female theatre professionals are considering leaving the sector.

Respondents to the 2023 survey, which included writers, directors and technicians, described ongoing difficulties in recouping lost income incurred during the shutdown of live venues. They said that since reopening, staff shortages and recruitment issues have led to long hours and burnout. 


One worker said: “Workload has increased, but salaries haven’t. Audiences have been slower to return, and everything feels very precarious and a bit on a knife edge, which is exhausting and stressful.”

Many women mentioned that theatres are currently focusing on commissioning cost-effective productions, such as monologues, or using famous names to fill seats, limiting the amount of work available to all theatre professionals. 

“It’s a macro issue, not a women issue,” noted one respondent. “But women are more affected due to being paid less than men and taking on more domestic work.”

Decrease in  opportunities

Only 6% of the 155 women questioned felt that opportunities for women in theatre had increased, with many writers saying they thought they were seen as a more "risky" prospect by producers than their male counterparts.  

“I’ve experienced theatre companies being cut-throat with their commissioning for the first time in my career," said one respondent.

"The financial pressures companies are under seems to be making some want more for their money with their commission. 

“I find that this means a reduction in general support for writers, and I suspect accommodating caring responsibilities has moved to low priority.”

Others were concerned that long-term career development prospects for women had worsened, saying there had been a “decrease in opportunities overall” with people “holding onto positions stifling movement”.

For higher-level technical roles, one respondent said it had been “hard to persuade theatres to consider job sharing / part-time and flexible working practices” and that “unpaid leave requests have been turned down as roles hard to cover.” 

Another added that “jumping from small scale to mid-scale (or from emerging to mid-career) seems impossible now that so many of those mid-scale theatres are closed or closed to newcomers".”

Childcare support

The survey found that 75% of women said they would like childcare support for theatre workers. Respondents remarked that lower salaries in the arts sector, as well as a dependency on freelancer roles, means that often income is not enough to cover childcare costs, disproportionately affecting those who take on primary carer roles.

The report’s author, writer and producer, Jennifer Tuckett, urged ACE and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to consider "how to support childcare responsibilities" and called upon them to "provide specific funding" to address gender inequality.

A headshot of Mary Stone