18 March 2021
By The Dance Edit
Well, I am sad to say that our next segment is not going to make us any less angry. It concerns another under-covered aspect of the pandemic’s effects on the arts world. Liza Yntema and Hannah McCarthy from the Dance Data Project®, more friends of the pod, they recently wrote an article about why the “shecession”—which is a maybe too cutesy, but we’ll go with it, term for the way COVID-related job losses have pushed more women than men from the workforce—that’s hit the arts community especially hard. And there’s been a lot of talk bigger-picture about the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on women. There’s been a lot of talk about how the arts and culture sector has been devastated by the pandemic. But we have to start talking about how those two problems are connected. Because women are overrepresented in our field. And if the arts are going to make a real comeback, post pandemic, securing and ensuring better support for women in the arts and particularly for women of color is going to be a really important part of the puzzle.
The blog post pointed out that women are overrepresented in the working class of the arts world, and gave the example that 65% of lower and mid-tier employees in the arts and culture sector in New York are women. And men tend to be in leadership positions, and they tend to have better pay and better job security. And the burdens of home, elder and childcare tend to disproportionately fall to women. Without support, women’s careers are going to lag, especially given the effects of the pandemic. And this has been reported for some time now, but of the net 140,000 jobs that were lost in December of 2020, all were held by women. And the jobs in the arts that were most vulnerable to furlough or layoff were primarily held by women of color, typically making minimum wage with no benefits or jobs security. This is kind of a stats-heavy intro, but the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that two in four mothers, and three in four black mothers, are breadwinners for their families, which really underscores the importance of paid family leave.
I think also, especially looking at the statistics in terms of men largely being in more leadership positions than women, it’s not just that that doesn’t make sense for the representation of our field—the fact that there is no comprehensive childcare leave, like paid childcare leave, that actually largely is going to be what is preventing women from being able to go into those positions. Not because they can’t do both, but because the people who are making the decisions about who to hire are likely to have these implicit biases that, Oh, someone who is male and doesn’t have a child that they’re responsible for caring for, is going to be able to devote more to the organization. Whereas women might go off and have babies. It’s like we’re 50 years ago in how this is being thought about.
And the solution is so obviously there needs to be comprehensive childcare made available just across the board to everyone, not just women, but men as well. Men need to be incentivized to stay home if they have a kid at home. There’s just so many things here that even though this doesn’t on the surface seem like an arts world story, this is affecting the way that our leadership is going forward, and continues to affect it.