3 years and $300,000 and I’ll fix it, for realz…

Alright, enough moping.

So remember how I said that the tough thing about talking about the issue of gender parity, the problem, wasn’t intentions, but a lack of culpability for outcomes.

In other words, how do you get people to not just think about doing the right thing but actually motivate them to do it?

Guess what?

Yesterday, I figured it out.

You just need some money.

You need a funding program that has nothing to do with intentions, because we all have the best intentions. What you need is a reward system that is entirely based on outcomes.

So.

Without further ado, I give you:

SWIM PONY MASSIVELY OVERHAULS THE STATE OF WOMEN ARTISTS IN THREE YEARS AND WHO KNEW IT WOULD BE THIS FLIPPIN EASY GRANT PROGRAM

Also known as:

AWESOME LADIES GETTIN’ WHAT’S DUE (ALGWD for short)

(With support from Pew Charitable Trusts

Or maybe William Penn

Or maybe The Wyncote Foundation

Or The Knight Foundation

Really who cares, someone has to fund this, right?)

Here are my proposed guidelines:

1)   The ALGWD team announces to the Philadelphia-area theater community that starting next season any company, of any size, with access to their own non-profit status or a fiscal sponsor is eligible for an award at the end of a three year period.

2)   The funding awards will be made in two categories:

  • $25,000 will be awarded to 5 companies with the highest percentage of women artists represented across three artistic categories (see below).
  • Any company that achieves 45% female representation across all three categories is eligible to receive $10,000.
  • PS – You have to hit the minimum in all three. No exceptions.

3)   Female artists represented will be calculated based on a statistics over three categories:

  • Number of women playwrights
  • Number of women directors
  • Number of women actors

4)   Other rules and guidelines:

  • Companies will submit their statistics and then have them validated by the grant committee in order to be eligible.
  • The statistics must include all artistic output by a company.
  • Artistic outputs included must be open to the public.
  • A company must meet a minimum of three public works to be eligible for consideration.
  • Funds are string-free. You can use them for whatever you want.

5)   And maybe we could also add this as a bonus:

  • A $1,000 in additional funds are available for any company that can also show an equal parity across all categories of theatrical design regardless of whether they reach the above minimums.

This means for three years there’s a looming pile of cash incentivizing the choice to bring women artists in. It’s not the only consideration, but it’s enough to help counteract a tiny bit of that un-intentional push away from a female artists in the other direction.

And happily, unlike calling someone out or making a stink, this grant doesn’t hurt anyone who decides they can’t or won’t be able to meet the gender equality minimum. You can do all the dude heavy, dude written, dude directed plays you want. It just means you’re missing out on the free money party.

Of the 12 companies I surveyed numbers on last year, a few were pretty darn close – Flashpoint, Simpatico and Azuka – but not one would have hit this minimum requirement across all three categories. But if there were $10,000 at stake, how much do you want to bet they’d tweak their selections just a tiny bit to nudge them over the line? If the next time the AD’s of these companies looked at their numbers and knew that hiring one more female director got them $10,000 do you think they’d think as hard about whether or not to do it? Do you think that the choice between a female playwright and a male one would be quite so agonizing if one picking the former meant they might be one of those companies competing for the top 5 slot?

For most companies, $25,000 or $10,000 in funds that aren’t project ear-marked would make a huge difference. That’s an entire person’s salary in some cases. That’s the budget for an entire show for the really small ones. And even if you’re a bigger dog, one where the scale you’re operating on won’t be totally transformed by this kind of cash, think about how hard you chase donors on this scale. You could just do the work you’re already doing AND save women artists from inequity while getting money handed to you.

The way I see it there are something on the order of 30 – 40 companies in Philly and the surrounding areas who’d be eligible. If I had to guess, right now, there are probably only a handful – 5 maybe – that potentially meet those guidelines already.  From rough estimation it seems like about half those companies could probably hit those numbers with just a bit of effort to add a few female directors or playwrights or plays with more female roles. If I were a betting woman, I’d guess the same half of those 30 – 40 would come out the other side of three years with hands outstretched for their $10,000.

Think about the impact that would make in this community:

  • 5 companies at the top x $25,000 = $125,000
  • ~16 more companies at the minimum x $10,000 = $160,000
  •  ~15 that also hit the design minimum x $1,000 = $15,000

That’s $300,000.

This is really not that much money.

Think about that Philly funders…  For a single upper limit Pew organizational project grant:

  • You could have an incredibly concrete means to measure the impact of your efforts by surveying the stats on gender before the award period and after.
  • You could incentivize not promises or discussions but measurable, quantifiable outcomes.
  • You could reward those companies already employing positive gender parity practices.
  • You could send a message that your organization cares deeply about the status of women artists and is able to take steps to do something about it.
  • You could create an art-making environment in Philadelphia that can be nationally recognized as the most female friendly in the country.
  • You could massively shift everything about the way this city works for women artists.

No hemming or hawing. No yelling or fighting. No pipelining. No apologies for what we intended to do but couldn’t quite make happen.  Just three years to make it happen or not.

Some folks will ask you for a whole new system and ten years or more to implement it.

I’m just asking for three years and $300,000.

Let’s do it now Philly before some other city snatches up our good idea.

– Adrienne

PS – Shout out to Brad Wrenn who dreamed this up in the car with me when I was having a shitty morning yesterday.

15 comments

  1. One category that was left out but I think should be included is female Artistic Directors and administrators. It’s hard to climb into a leadership position as a woman, so that’s why many of the women at the top of organizations have had to start those organizations ourselves (like you and me). I would somehow include that in your formula because it would also make a difference at which organizations are being led by women or putting women in decision-making roles.

    1. I agree that ADs should be something we encourage women to occupy positions as. However, for this particular idea I really wanted something that could be implemented by *any* company immediately. Getting people into leadership positions is a much needed, but I also think much longer term, kind of project. We’ll just have to devise another program after the success of this one.

  2. what about designers? I think doing this means you need to look at everyone the company employs. I understand your focus is on female artists, so maybe don’t include admin staff or technicians, but I think designers need to be included in this picture.

  3. I love this idea. An argument against including administrative and artistic staff: theater companies hire or pay lots of playwrights, directors, and actors each season, while staff positions open up much less frequently. Yes, I’d love to see a gender parity in artistic leadership, but I think it’s more realistic to incentivize a theater to program for parity than it is to incentivize a theater company to restructure staff for parity in the short term. Question I have is about numbers o’ ladies: are we talking percentages per year over three years or percentages over three years? It’d suck to see a company get rewarded for doing one exceptional all-female and then pick dudes the rest of the time. That might actually not work out numerically–but it sounds like you want to award for consistency over three years, so maybe specify that.

    Anyway, I think this rocks and I like the way you think.

    1. My thinking is this would be an average of all projects’ participants over all three years. This is the way I calculated numbers when I was doing data analysis on theaters in town last year. I think it’s the most accurate way to calculate the true average of representation (rather than splitting each year up into a calculation and then averaging that). I think it’s FINE to do an all dude play so long as over the course of the entire three years the numbers are equal.

      And thanks!

  4. Brilliant! One question….if the idea is getting more ladies work, is it not possible to game the system by hiring the same ladies over and over, which is pretty much what happens now. Perhaps it is not *just* numbers but diversity of hiring practices? Maybe that’s too complicated.

    1. I agree that it is possible to get higher numbers by hiring the same few folks at a given theater. There are a million ways people could try and “game” the system. Still, I think that at the end of the day if there’s a trend of plays by women directed by women with more women in them being produced, that will mean more women hired over over all. I think as you say, part of the idea is a simple easy to enact measure that won’t bog down. Calculating averages is easy to do and easy to assess. The other factors are also important but may take more time.

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