Even before Covid, the performing arts were weighted against anyone who was not an unencumbered free agent, able to draw on friends, family and alternative sources of income to support them in their career. Now we see an industry haemorrhaging talent, especially among underrepresented groups who have historically struggled to find a foothold.

The pandemic has disproportionately affected parents and carers facing school and nursery closures, home-schooling and/or additional caring responsibilities for elderly and vulnerable people affected by Covid. And when we include diversity, parents and carers are among those who represent every protected characteristic. For those whose care responsibilities were combined with other barriers to work, the impact has been even greater. 

Fight or flight mode

In autumn 2020, we published research that revealed this starkly. For example, over a third of women reported feeling overwhelmed or in fight or flight mode. One respondent said: “The instability of fixed term contracts and stress this causes in the current situation isn’t a sustainable way of living and impacts negatively on my mental health which then impacts my family’s wellbeing.”

Almost half of D/deaf and/or disabled respondents said they were really stressed or in flight or fight. One said: “As a disabled parent, my support was non-existent except for a few disabled mum networks I am involved with. I was shocked how […] mental health support just didn’t exist.” The workforce in general, and parents and carers in particular, is exhausted, out of work and reconsidering priorities. 

Another respondent said: “I work a pretty regular 45-hour week with peaks at 70 hours a week and was already struggling to support my family and achieve a work/life balance. All I can see coming is pay cuts/freezes, worse conditions and redundancies.”

Seven in ten parents and carers are now considering abandoning their careers in the performing arts. The effects of this can already be felt, with theatres struggling to recruit key staff, particularly in backstage and technical areas.

Seismic shifts

The pressures of the past two years look set to continue throughout 2022. Our challenge as a sector is not just about survival but about how we emerge from the pandemic and the role the performing arts should play in a society in need of collective recovery. 

How can we take the learnings from the seismic economic and social shifts of the past two years and transform them into an infrastructure capable of withstanding the ever-evolving challenges that threaten the stability of the sector over the coming decade?  

There are many factors to consider and no single approach to working in a post-Covid landscape. There is tension between wanting things to ‘get back to normal’ and ‘doing things differently’. But as Parents and Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA) Partners are already finding, placing inclusive working practices at the heart of an organisation can be the touchstone for a more resilient future.

Our charter and programme

PiPA works in partnership with performing arts organisations to create an industry where employment is accessible, and practices are truly inclusive of people who have parenting and caring responsibilities. 

In 2016, working in collaboration with leading UK theatre organisations, we launched the PiPA Best Practice Charter, a set of ten guiding principles for inclusive employment which have become exponentially more urgent in a post-Covid climate, not just for parents and carers but for all. 

There are currently over 55 Charter Partners participating in the PiPA Charter Programme, which offers a monitoring and evaluation framework with supporting toolkit to enable organisations to work towards achieving the ten points on the charter. 

Using data-driven insights into action, Charter Partners are able to implement new strategies in direct response to the needs of their business and of their people.

Remote working

PiPA Charter Partners have responded to the ongoing challenges with unflinching determination and innovation. Many have found new ways to meet the increasing demands using the tools and resources available as part of their Charter Partner membership.  

One is example is around remote working. To support leaders and managers explore new approaches to working practices, SOLT/ UK Theatre commissioned us to produce a practical Remote Working toolkit. This provided managers with a means to assess their potential for implementing remote working strategies. 

Now, instead of seeing flexible and remote working as temporary pandemic practices, many Charter Partners have embedded these into their organisations as permanent policies. 

Charter Partners have undertaken a careful review of their existing policies, often implementing entirely new ones to ensure parents and carers are supported. This included a Children in the Workplace Policy providing clear guidance for parents and carers in the case of caring emergencies.

A new normal

When considering a post-Covid return to the workplace, many organisations used staff surveys to identify caring-related needs. They could then be factored into planning. PiPA worked with English National Ballet to design a Returning Parents and Carers to Work Resource and Seminar.

As a sector, we must use this opportunity to learn from how working practices have to establish an updated model of working for the future. We can create a new normal, founded on equity and inclusion, to produce an economically viable industry that works for everyone.  Closing the gap between where we are and where we want to be isn’t a quick fix, but it’s an important one and the time is now. 

To find out more about the PiPA Charter Programme and how it can support your organisation to embed ACE’s Investment Principles, as well as achieve a more dynamic, inclusive and robust infrastructure, please register for our introductory webinar on February 8 here.

Cassie Raine is Co-Founder and Joint CEO of Parents & Carers in Performing Arts.