26 September 2015

Aside: The odds of all-male creative teams

Mentioned in The Gate's 2015 accounts is the fact that in 2014 The Gate took part in Tonic Theatre's Advance programme. The programme brought together senior staff from 11 theatres who recognised that something was stopping talented women from rising to the top and wanted to address gender inequality. Despite the fact that The Gate ended up being one of the more gender balanced theatres, they have pledged that they will "never again employ an all male creative team on a Gate production." This prompted the question: probabilistically speaking, how often should all male creative teams occur?

We know that more women study performing arts than men (something Frantic Assembly want to address). We can likely assume an 75:25 split in favour of female students, although claims of 80:20 abound. Reliable numbers are problematic because 'performing arts' is a vague definition and research tends to focus on specific age ranges.

A slightly more reliable assumption is that there is a 2:1 ratio of men:women employed in creative roles within theatre. This shift in ratios from education to employment is likely impacted by an industry wide bias towards employing men rather than women.

To flesh those ratios out a bit: 50 hypothetical students (12 male and 38 female) study theatre on a hypothetical course. Assuming all 12 men find employment in theatre, expect only 6 women to (16% of women who studied vs 100% of men who studied). In reality, employment within theatre is not actually guaranteed for those 12 men, so let's say 50% do something else and 6 end up working in theatre. That's, on average, only 3 women with [under]paid work in a related field to their area of education (or 8% of female course participants).

Clearly there's something very serious in play here and it doesn't strike me that priority #1 should be urgently supporting more young men to study performing arts.

If the 2:1 ratio holds (which it looks like it does at least at The Gate according to this data), a creative team of 10 should naturally be all male 1% of the time. This is simplified a bit because some creative roles have more skew to their ratios but roughly equates to about 1 in every 100 productions. An unusual natural event (in the same league as tossing a coin and it being heads 6 times in a row) but likely to occur roughly once every 10 years (assuming 10 productions a year). The larger the creative team, the more unlikely it is to be all male without inherent bias.

If the ratio of men:women employed were to improve to 1:1 then an all male creative team of 10 should only naturally occur once in every 1024 productions, or once every 100 years.

The data that Tonic provides on the website covers only 5 creative positions: writers, directors, designers, lighting designers and sound designers. The data spans approximately a 10 year period for each theatre. The below numbers show how probable it is (for those theatres that disclosed the data) that those 5 creative positions would be all male (assuming you would have one of each position involved with a production). Keep in mind that accepting the 2:1 ratio, there's  naturally a 12% chance that those 5 positions would be all male (a 1:1 ratio would mean only a 3% chance of natural occurrence).

Gate Theatre 8%
Almeida Theatre 50%
Chichester Festival Theatre 67%
English Touring Theatre 34%
Headlong 18%
Pentabus 1%
RSC 27%
Tricycle Theatre 11%

The Gate are clearly at the better end of the scale here, with only 3 theatres coming in under the 12% line implied by the 2:1 ratio. Let us be clear: all male creative teams are not the result of a meritocratic industry ("we hired the best people for the job" is, quite frankly, a ludicrous assertion - for a start, there is a mountain of research showing how flawed and biased people's judgement is when it comes to assessing others professional capability), they are the result of (one would hope 'lazy' rather than 'malicious') gender bias and the resulting population skew.

For good measure, this is how probable it is that a production at those theatres over the last 10 years had those 5 roles filled by an all female creative team:

Gate Theatre 0.4582%
Almeida Theatre 0.0002%
Chichester Festival Theatre 0.0002%
English Touring Theatre 0.0075%
Headlong 0.0309%
Pentabus 1.0526%
RSC 0.0195%
Tricycle Theatre 0.1833%

That's right, four decimal places.

Pledging to never again employ an all male creative team is an interesting thing to do in the face of this bias and certainly raises some questions about how creative teams will be put together (optimally, you should recruit a female member first to give you complete freedom on the final four rather than risk limited choice later). Whilst it will have a very obvious effect at one end of the probability spectrum (reducing the probability of all male teams to zero and bumping the probability that a team contains at least one female member to 100%), it is unlikely to dramatically increase the probability of an all female creative team. To do that you would need to directly address the 2:1 employment ratio and pledge to create work with balanced female:male creative teams as a minimum.

Theatres are unlikely to do this because it will be viewed as a 'limitation' or a 'constraint' on their creative activities and heaven forbid that gender equality stands in the way of artistic vision. The irony of course is that 'constraints' give birth to innovation and creativity: precisely the qualities that artistic vision requires.