Can theatre skills give women a stronger voice in the workplace? Photo: Shutterstock

Wednesday 27th April 2016

Gender in the spotlight

How can actors help with diversity imbalances?

Gender equality affects a huge number of workplaces and the rate of change is currently incredibly slow. In fact, The Equalities and Human Rights Commission estimates it will take 70 years at the current rate of progress until a state of equality is finally reached.

Having taken part in the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Creative Entrepreneurs programme to support new business creation, Tim Allsop and I decided to use our performing skills to establish a company – Turn of Phrase – that could support organisations looking to speed up gender equality.

We spent time within the business incubator to shape our courses and workshops, making use of our performing skills and my own training in counselling and psychotherapy.

Stereotyping is a major hurdle and there is an unconscious bias within many individuals that needs to be uncovered. We teach psychoanalytic theory and make it accessible using physical exercises, getting people up on their feet and giving them an element of behavioural theory upon which to focus.

Improvise to improve

As actors, improvisation is a tool of our trade – and it’s something we incorporate into our sessions to help place theory within a situation. By acting out scenes, people recognise which feelings/behaviours they are most familiar with and how they might clash with others.

We encourage them to exaggerate and minimise these behaviours physically and vocally, in order to give them useful tools when similar situations arise in a workplace setting. The aim is to make people aware of their communication pattern in order to become more equal and productive.

Turn of Phrase at work

Role play within corporation training sessions can make some people uncomfortable. But with two actors as part of the group, we are able to adopt characters and act out situations in a fun and relaxed way. Responses to the characters are discussed and we encourage people to invent their own characters and situations.

It’s a relief for many to explore a topic that is often taboo in the workplace. People’s responses demonstrate their pre-judgements and defensive reactions are broken down through open discussion.

Using role play brings emotion and behaviour to life in the room, giving us a chance to examine it and experiment with change. Our training as actors gives us an understanding of nuanced behaviours and the myriad ways in which feelings can manifest.

We look at patterns of communication between co-workers and expose unhelpful attitudes and habits. We’re helping people to change and that’s often a big ask for an outsider.

Climate changed

We recently worked with the Climate Disclosure Standards Board to look at gender roles and communication within one of their teams, which was often working under pressure to complete multiple projects. Our work helped to create a clear process for the team to communicate better while increasing their awareness of unconscious bias.

Although this is an emotive subject, we’re not trying to focus on ‘bad behaviour’ or vilify anyone. We prefer to focus on the positives: after all, the benefits of men and women communicating equally results in a higher rate of productivity, job satisfaction and staff retention.

About the author

Francesca Wilding

Francesca Wilding graduated from The Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and with Tim Allsop launched Turn of Phrase which provides vocal and physical training, confidence building, negotiation and networking skills, interview preparation and conference presentation. In particular, Turn of Phrase focuses on improving gender equality in the workplace.