A new report on the current state of gender equality in dance has been released, with a particular focus on the dearth of women in artistic and leadership roles despite the industry being dominated by women. Turning Pointe: Gender Equality in Australian Dance scrutinises companies in the Major Performing Arts sector as well as their multi-year funded counterparts. With research conducted over the past 12 months in conjunction with an advisory committee of industry experts including Lucy Guerin, Amy Hollingsworth, Stephanie Lake, and Carin Mistry, the report identifies the ways in which women are underrepresented in artistic and leadership roles.

“For a long time people have been talking about gender equality in dance both in Australia and internationally, but we didn’t have the appropriate data to understand the full picture,” said report author Andrew Westle. “The report examines the current state of play with a set of data that is confronting. The power now lies in people using this information to advocate, advance and address the issues outlined in the report. Australian stages must reflect the diversity of society.”

One of the most significant findings in the report showed that Major Performing Arts companies programmed full-length works by women only 13 percent of the time over an 11-year period. Shorter works by women appear to have fared better, programmed 24 percent of the time over the same period. At the commissioning level, women are only asked to create work at a rate of 26 percent in comparison to men in the same 11-year period. It is also worth noting that over a 12-year period, none of the MPA companies have had a single female artistic director.

Multi-year funded companies programmed works by female choreographers more frequently, 59 percent over a six-year period compared to 41 percent by men. The report notes that female artistic directors helm many of these companies, meaning that they routinely choreograph for their own organisations. Although programming by these multi-year funded companies is more balanced than their MPA counterparts, these statistics still do not reflect the overall female participation rates in the industry.

The report also notes that women are strongly represented at key industry awards, meaning that their work is considered to be of an exceptional standard and worth recognising. For example, 12 women have won the Outstanding Achievement in Choreography at the Australian Dance Awards, compared to just seven for men over a 14-year period. However, women still remain marginalised in terms of programming.

Key recommendations of the report include increased visibility and programming of female dancers and choreographers, with more awareness around growth opportunities for women dancers who may experience more increased performance demands. The implementation of quotas as the only way to achieve a level of sustainable change is another recommendation, with some of those interviewed as part of the report pointing to the changes in the film industry around funding in relation to Screen NSW’s quota system.

Mentoring and support is another recommendation, considered critically important to career progression. Childcare and family-friendly practice is another, with an acknowledgement that financial constraints in the small to medium independent sector make it difficult for adequate support to be provided. The report suggests that industry events such as the National Dance Forum should trial the provision of childcare, collectively subsidised through a small increase in ticket prices. Initiatives such as these will mean that fewer women are made to spend all their earnings on childcare.

Finally, benchmarking and vigilance around gender representation is central to improving the marginalisation of women in leadership positions, the report concludes. Companies are encouraged to develop their own policies and directives that are appropriate to their specific contexts, and reflect on their level of success to date.

Full report