FEBRUARY 2022

In the year and a half since council committed to reexamining Actors’ Equity Association from the ground up to root out white supremacist structures and rebuild the union as an anti-racist organization, Equity has made steady progress. Today we continue our commitment to semiannual updates on our Diversity & Inclusion Retrofit, the structure for this work developed by Diversity & Inclusion Strategist Bliss Griffin. This report, covering the second half of 2021, focuses on the pillars of Connect Members, Develop Staff, Guide Leadership and Open Access.

OPEN ACCESS

Equity’s new Open Access policy created a new pathway to Equity membership without bias-based barriers to entry for professionals with socially marginalized identities. Put simply, Equity membership is now open to any stage manager or actor who has worked professionally on a theatre production in the United States. We have also made it easier for former Equity members to rejoin the union.

The nearly 1,000 members who have joined via Open Access since its launch in August are more diverse and more closely representative of the U.S. population than Equity’s overall membership. In the first six months of the Open Access policy, BIPOC members made up 35% of all new members joining the union – compared to BIPOC members being 30% of those who joined between 2017 and 2019, and to BIPOC members making up 19% of the total membership on Jan 1, 2021. In 2021, 65% of new members joined via Open Access. Please note, however, that this high percentage can be attributed to a to a lack of members joining from work. There were significantly fewer contract offers during the pandemic, which results naturally in significantly fewer opportunities to join via contract offer. This means we are looking at a more diverse electorate for upcoming Equity elections as well as a potentially more diverse candidate pool. Of course, it’s important to remember that the number of new members in each year is a fraction of overall membership, so it will take years for the overall demographics to show significant change.

Open Access is currently in effect until May 1, 2023. In the meantime, Equity will be developing a permanent gateway to membership that addresses racial inequities in accessing membership in the union.

CONNECT MEMBERS

Council has taken the bold move of overhauling member engagement opportunities in the union. This process introduced two new models for member involvement: action teams and Equity Communities.

Action teams provide members opportunities to work together on focused activities to drive a cause. The Campaigns Action Team will organize for union policy priorities (like increased arts funding and protecting worker rights), support Equity at the negotiating table and pursue other external objectives. The Member Education & Engagement Action Team will help to educate members – and prospective members – about union membership and the ins and outs of Actors’ Equity Association.

Equity Communities bring together members based on shared interests, demographics and other commonalities. These groups build community through social, educational and networking activities.

These new types of groups are part of a larger holistic member engagement strategy, which you will see more about below under Guide Leadership.

Participation in action teams and Equity Communities will provide a greater number of members opportunities to be a part of union activities beyond the workplace and to build solidarity with fellow members. Groups organized around marginalized identities, such as communities for BIPOC members; members with disabilities; senior/older members; trans, non-binary and genderqueer members and others will enable members who share these identities to build connections and amplify their collective voices. Groups organized around other types of identities, interests and activities strengthen connections among members who might not otherwise have contact with each other. The cumulative result is a stronger, more interconnected membership where more individuals’ voices are part of the collective conversation.

In addition to work on bringing this program into being, which was done in partnership with the organizing and governance departments, the diversity & inclusion department continued its robust calendar of member engagement and education events. In the second half of 2021, more than 1,500 attendees participated in 17 events, representing a 41% increase in offerings and 36% increase in member participation compared to 2020. In the coming year, this type of programming will largely transition to member-driven events hosted by Equity communities.

GUIDE LEADERSHIP

Council’s overhaul of member engagement opportunities, mentioned above, also encompassed a rethinking of committee work at the union. With an eye toward both increasing the efficiency of union governance as well as creating a structure more representative of the full membership of the union, council updated and streamlined the committee system.

The new system includes training for all committee chairs in diversity best practices, as well as rules and strategies for chairing meetings. Leaders of Equity Communities and action teams will receive similar training as well. These new trainings, coupled with new requirements for populating committees so their demographics more closely resemble the demographics of the United States at large, will ensure our committees embrace the voices of all our members.

While participation in committees, action teams and Equity Communities are not, strictly speaking, leadership pipelines, they will provide a greater number of members opportunities to be a part of union activities beyond the workplace and build solidarity with fellow members. New limitations on the number of committee chair and vice chair positions and memberships that any one member can hold, as well as built-in provisions to guarantee some level of committee membership turnover, will ensure more individuals have a say in union governance.

DEVELOP STAFF

Equity has expanded inclusion training for the union’s staff, offering additional mandatory training as well as new options for staff members to deepen their understanding and skills. In addition to federal and state mandated harassment and discrimination training, in 2021 Equity staff participated in over 10 hours of additional required inclusion training. Another 50 hours of optional inclusion learning opportunities were also offered and well-attended.

Additionally, Equity’s human resources department worked with the diversity & inclusion department to create a transparent, structured and inclusive hiring process. They formed diverse hiring committees throughout the organization and trained them to understand bias interruption and follow a structured interview process. Every external job-hiring process now must always have no more than four final candidates, including at least one woman and one person of color. No one person is allowed to meet both criteria. This guarantees that at least 50% of the final candidates for any role are people with systemically marginalized identities.

Additionally, HR removed limiting language and prerequisites from all job descriptions, such as requiring educational degrees and theatre background to apply. Equity also enlarged the scope of outreach for potential candidates by expanding where open positions are posted.

Stay tuned for a closer look at this process in an upcoming report on the demographics of Equity’s staff and elected leadership.


JULY 2021

It has been one year since council committed to reexamining Actors’ Equity Association from the ground up to root out white supremacist structures and rebuild the union as an anti-racist organization. Last August, Diversity & Inclusion Strategist Bliss Griffin introduced the Diversity & Inclusion Retrofit to provide a structure for this work. In December, we provided our first update on the Retrofit, and now we are pleased to offer this additional report, focused on the pillars of Empower Members, Develop Staff and Open Access.

EMPOWER MEMBERS

Three distinct working groups advanced the Empower Members pillar of the retrofit this year: deputies, stage managers and member education.

Each of these three groups asked what information is necessary for members to be empowered, and what are the best circumstances for them to receive that information. Their process was informed by the Equity Sequence, five questions that can be applied to a decision or process to reduce bias and increase inclusivity and equity.

The Deputy Working Group recognized a need for more clarity about the role of the deputy and the tools available to members serving in that role. As a result, the Deputy Resource Center in the member portal has been revamped, with new information and tools available not only for deputies, but for all members who want to better understand what they can expect from the deputies they work with. A plan is in place for the creation of additional educational resources to demystify the role of the deputy and make it more accessible to members who have not yet served in the position.

The Stage Managers Working Group was also interested in role clarification, ensuring stage managers can do their actual job – and not the deputy’s job or their employer’s job – in creating a safe workplace.

They are currently engaged in two specific spheres of work:

  1. Role clarification, digging into the boundaries of the stage manager’s role and what falls beyond those boundaries. This helps the stage manager to address discrimination claims that come to them and lend support without putting themselves at risk by stepping into the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace
  2. Developing a workshop on integrating inclusive and antiracist practices into the stage management work process and identifying options available for those stage managers who wish to be a more active part in preventing and disrupting bullying and harassment.

The Member Education Working Group identified those moments in a member’s lifecycle, both personal and professional, where education is both helpful and welcome, and then discussed the best ways of delivering education to members at these moments. Some key findings:

  • It’s important to make sure of a variety of educational approaches. Everyone learns differently, and it’s helpful to encounter the same information in different ways.
  • We need to meet members where they’re at rather than relying on an “if we build it, they will come” model. This includes looking for opportunities to deliver education on the job as well as at moments when members have natural interactions with their unions, like at joining, contract signings and big life cycle moments (such as graduations, marriages, births, retirements).

DEVELOP STAFF

We have gathered data on our current staffing, which revealed that our staff is significantly whiter than the cities in which our offices are based. While the populations of office cities are 65% people of color, our staff are only 23% people of color – and that ratio becomes even more disproportionate for staff in leadership roles. Tenure at Equity is also significantly longer for men and white staff members than for any other group in the organization. In fact, across the organization only those two identities have surpassed the average tenure.

Our Develop Staff team is considering Equity’s staff situation through the lens of the Continuum on Becoming an Anti-Racist Multicultural Organization. We have established a five-year timeline for change, with five areas of focus: Compensation, Benefits and Experience; Recruitment and Hiring; Work/Life Practices; Succession Planning; and Representation.

Since April of 2020, staff has had access to weekly conversations about diversity, inclusion, equity, access and justice. This summer, all Equity staff members will take at least two multi-session courses on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion topics, choosing from three options offered. Additionally, supervisors will receive specific training on hiring inclusively and leading diverse teams.

Along those lines, we are reshaping our interview process, including a new requirement that we do not close interview processes unless the last-round candidate pool includes at least one person of color and at least one person whose gender is other than cisgender male.

The organization's goal is to make our next two executive-level hires people of color. We are also identifying mentorship opportunities within the organization to develop key staff with marginalized identities to step into future leadership roles.

OPEN ACCESS

The Open Access Working Group convened in January to explore whether the current pathways to union membership are equitable, and how they might be improved. This group met no fewer than ten times this year, producing a proposal for restructuring how stage managers and actors become Equity members. Their work was framed by Tema Okun’s articulation of the characteristics of white supremacy culture. Their proposal was adopted by council in May and will become effective in three phases dubbed Open Access Fairly, Open Access Immediately and Open Access Permanently.

Open Access Fairly is already underway, with the lifting of restrictions Equity had imposed on international actors through our previous Constitution & Bylaws.

Open Access Immediately will be unveiled this month and focuses on removing the barriers to membership access that currently enable employers to dictate who can become a member of Equity. Watch for a full announcement in the coming weeks, which will be followed by an opportunity to hear directly from the architects of the new plan and get any remaining questions answered.

Open Access Permanently is the focus of a working group going forward, to reshape Equity’s ongoing membership policies to align with these principles.


DECEMBER 2020

Our immediate focus is on areas of operational change which do not require significant policy modifications. Exploring these areas will both unearth Equity’s strengths and support any future structural, bylaw or policy changes with evidence. Work has already begun on three pillars:

  • Develop Staff – Change begins at home.
  • Empower Members – The union’s strength is the knowledge and solidarity of its members.
  • Guide Employers – It’s crucial for our employers to partner in this process to ensure our workplaces improve.

Develop Staff

We look at the staff through two lenses. First, is Equity, as an employer, creating a culture where all people feel enough belonging to grow and thrive? Second, how can we best train staff to have interactions with members that foster trust and belonging regardless of their backgrounds and experiences? We are developing tools for measuring and tracking staff experience and sentiment as well as interventions for supporting staff through the emotional and operational processes involved in this work.

  • December 2020 - Staff harassment and discrimination investigation training. Collaboration with the Entertainment Community Fund.
  • October 2020 - Support Group for POC Staff. Collaboration with the Entertainment Community Fund.
  • September 2020 - Implement Annual Employee Engagement Survey.
  • June 2020 - Weekly article-based inclusion discussion.

Empower Members

The strength of the union is in its members’ knowledge of their rights as employees (as well as the employers’ attendant duty) and their solidarity with one another. We are reviewing and improving every opportunity for members to acquire the information that will allow them to confidently address any workplace problem, particularly those that arise from harassment, discrimination, and bullying. We consider members in two distinct groups: new members and typical members, and deputies and stage managers, who have opted into a bit more responsibility in the workplace than the typical member.

Deputies & Stage Managers

  • December 2020 – Build Deputy Election Workflow to ensure members can access a deputy regardless of whether they are working under a guest artist agreement or on a contract without a stage manager.
  • November 2020 – Updated Deputy Election Form to reflected clarified policy language.
  • October 2020 – Amended Deputy Guidelines to reflect clarified policy language and expectations.
  • September 2020 – Clarify Deputy Policy.

Member Education

  • December 2020 – Identify best touch points and content for improved general member education.
  • October 2020 - Identify education pain points for all members and members of marginalized identities.

Guide Employers

Employers are welcome to reach out to the diversity and inclusion department for preliminary support on any issue from developing a business strategy to drive inclusion to guidance regarding renovating for accessibility. To support employers in their work, we are developing resources in response to the most common consultation requests from employers and member requests for intervention.

  • December 2020 – Build Employer Resources webpage.
  • December 2020 - Developing proposal of industry role & responsibility agreements.
  • October 2020 - Identify core employer knowledge gaps. Structure guidebooks.
  • September 2020 – Establish collaboration with a major regional employer to revamp their member-facing operations for inclusion.

Transparency & Accountability

  • December 2020 - Six-month Retrofit update to members
  • November 2020 - Publish Equity Member Hiring Study