Women’s Leadership


Join The Movement

Download the full report

Learn more about the research findings and how your theater can make the important changes.

Watch the conference livestream

Hear from the research team and collaborators.

Make a Donation

Spread the word and help us realize our vision of an arts field that is truly representative of our diverse artistic community.

Contact Bethany Herron, Associate Director of Development, Institutional Partnerships, at bherron@act‐sf.org or 415.439.2434.

Why don’t more women hold top leadership positions in American theaters?

In 2013, American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.) partnered with the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) to conduct a study on the gender equity of leadership opportunities in the nonprofit American theater. The project was made possible by the Virigina B. Toulmin Foundation, the Valentine Foundation, and individual donors.

Research included interviews with current Artistic Directors and Executive Directors, members of Boards of Trustees of theaters from the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) who had been involved in the leader selection process, search firm professionals who manage searches for top leadership positions, and people in the pipeline to leadership.

The Study  

Preliminary findings showed that some of the main barriers to women achieving lead leadership positions in theater are:

  • Familiarity and Trust
    The overwhelming majority of white, male leaders in LORT theaters feeds the mostly unconscious expectation of what a leader should look like.
  • Work-Life Balance
    Family responsibility represents a strong and hidden hurdle to progression, especially for women, yet conversations around work-life balance have remained a taboo.
  • Mentoring and Affordability
    In the theater, careers have traditionally progressed through apprenticeships, however, women mentors have been in short supply.

To work towards greater diversity in leadership positions, Boards of Trustees can:

  • Use vacancies in leadership as an opportunity for the theater to engage in self-examination, articulating the skills and experiences to include in the job description for the next leader.
  • Ensure diverse search committee membership that includes a variety of voices. Make sure each voice gets heard by instituting unanimous voting.
  • Conduct a publicly posted, external search for all major leadership positions, which will expose you to the widest slate of candidates.

To learn more about the research findings and how your theater can make the important changes, download the full report, watch the livestream of the conference, and check out the project overview on the WCW website.

Additional Resources

Participate in the Berkshire Leadership Summit

Recommendations to address issues faced by women in theater

How the Statera Foundation serves women in theater

Gender disparity in opera

Gender Equity Challenge for Bay Area businesses

Celebrate SWAN Day to promote women's creativity

Thank you to the generous supporters of the Women’s Leadership Project!

Anonymous Foundation, Susan McGee Bailey, Michael Barker, Bryan Bellomo, Stephen Bennett, Barbara Bessey, Caroline Blanding, Laura Bonamo, Kelly Borgia, Jennifer Caleshu, Betty Anne Carlin, Suzanne Ciani, Lisa Cohen, Tegan Cohan, Amy Corcoran, Ariel Craft, Mary Margaret Dale, Suzanne Darley, Anne Dautun, Michelle Dissel, Emily Donn, Robert Donnalley, Sumru Erkut, Nate Farber, Rachel Flynn, Cynthia Fuhrman, Shelby Gans, Priscilla Geeslin, Diana Glazer, Barbara Grasseschi, Julia Griswold, Franes Grossman, Gruber Family Foundation, Debbie Harmon, Candace Hemphill, Lisa Honig, Katherine James, Laura Kepley, Paulette Kessler, Sheila Larsen, Margaret Lourenco, Steph Mazow, Joy Meads, Penny Metropulos, Dr. Mary Metz, Diane Miller, Mandi Moss, Elizabeth Munz, Carey Perloff, Posner-Wallace Foundation, Ellen Richard, Helen Rigby, Ian Simpson, John Sullivan, Joseph Tally, Jennifer Tattenbaum, Martha Taub, Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, Kristen van Ginhoven, Dixie Uffelman, and Monica West

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