Is this going to be a little awkward? I don’t know – but let us try. I’ve been discussing the new course at the Globe quite a bit, this past week, and one of the things that turned up more than once is the diversity policy, and…
Confession: I’m never entirely comfortable with the notion of diversity policies. “Which is a little odd,” I’ve been told. “As a woman, you should know how hard it is at times.” And yes, I do know. Not because of my stage experiences, I must say: I’ve been very lucky in that, and in fact, I think I’ve worked with more women than men, both as directors and artistic directors – and not because of any diversity policy. Only once have I been told – and this during an online workshop with an American instructor – that, as a woman playwright, I should write female characters. It was slightly disconcerting, but on the whole my experience in the theatre allows me to consider that as the odd bizarre incident.
Before that, though, I ran for seven years the family business in a male-dominated field, and I’ll say it was no picnic. It took years and a lot of hard work just to convince many clients that I wasn’t the secretary or a glorified tea-girl – I was the boss… on the other hand, early on I was offered the local presidency of a professional organisation – which I turned down, being very new to the job and very busy learning the ropes. “Do think about it,” an older- and not terribly tactful – colleague insisted. “Just think how good we’d look, with a woman at the helm…”And, you see, I happened to be the only woman around – and one of the few on a national scale. Not that I’d harboured many illusions about the proposal (as I said, I was very, very green at the game) – but to be told in as many words that my gender was, more or less, my only noteworthy quality didn’t exactly fill me with jubilation.
I think that’s where I developed my sourness towards diversity policies. I don’t want to get a presidency, a job, a commission or an endorsement because I’m a woman, thank you very much. I want to earn any of those things because I’m good at what I do. As an individual, not as a specimen of an endangered species, to be either patronised or bandied about as a badge of political correctness. I don’t want to have to wonder: would they have chosen me, if I were not a woman?
Sometimes some well-meaning soul will tell me how they’ve chosen to read my book or see my play because I’m a woman… And I’m very glad when they go on to tell me how they liked it – but at times it’s a struggle not to ask: so you wouldn’t have read/seen it, had it been written by a man?
Now don’t mistake me: I’m quite happy to be a woman – but that’s not the first thing that defines me. I’m myself, thank you very much. And I’m a novelist and playwright (and occasional lighting designer) with a growing interest in directing – and that’s how I’d like to be taken or rejected. As an individual – and not as a member of a category, or a necessary quota within a diversity policy.