Why Gender Parity Makes Sense From A Marketing Perspective

A Disconnect

The art of marketing prides itself on being able to understand and cater for the needs of it’s customers, however the theatre industry may currently be facing a disconnect between customer needs and product delivered in regards to the issue of gender equality. Recently in Sydney, the Darlinghurst Theatre Company came under fire for their unfavourable ratio of women to men in positions of writing, directing and performing for their 2016 season. The statistics are nothing so unusual when compared to that of Sydney’s other major companies, but that in itself becomes very unusual when we examine the theatrical customer base.

Theatre Attended Mainly By Women

Rather astoundingly, research from both Broadway and the West End concluded that women make up exactly 68% of both of their respective audiences. This precise number across two very different geographical locations may indicate a strong global trend. Exact figures for theatre attendance in Australia were unavailable, however the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that in 2009-20 women were more likely to attend cultural events than men by a ratio of 88% to 83%. The further break down is as follows:


The two most likely age groups to attend theatre are the 45-54 and 55-64 years age groups (19.4% each) followed closely by the 15-17 years age group (19%). Although it should be noted that theatre attendance is quite well rounded throughout all age groups:


The statistical conclusion five years ago was quite clear. Across a wide variety of age groups, women attend more theatre than men. So why then does Australia’s theatrical landscape appear to be so dominant with male voices and opportunities? In the same year as the above ABS study was conducted, both Belvoir and the Melbourne Theatre Company faced backlash over female representation being less than a third of their male counterparts. In 2012, a report found that little had changed, as out of eight major theatre companies, women were writing only 21% of productions and directing 25%. Now in late 2015, an examination of Australia’s 2016 mainstage season reveals nothing but old news. Women are still underrepresented and from a marketing standpoint of catering to your core audience, it doesn’t make sense. With this in mind, I can only imagine that discussions within theatrical management go a little something like this:


The Big Argument

pointWe’ll go into the many reasons why it makes marketing sense to promote gender parity in a bit, but first we need to address the one big argument not to: The current state of theatre already boasts a majority audience of women even with low female representation. Honestly, this is a tough one. It’s akin to asking a company to change their product in order to attract a customer base that they already have. Furthermore, any drastic action taken could risk losing some of the male customer base. From the point of view of a theatre company, adopting inaction or ignorance on gender parity is a safer short term strategy, particularly if the female audience continues to vote in favour of inaction through their dollars. 

The quickest way to send a message to a company is through money. Realistically, there is no reason for a company to take any drastic action until a threat to their operations is detected.

A Threat To Operations

I put forward a survey to 223 theatre practitioners and consumers regarding the representation of women in theatre. It garnered an overwhelming (79%) response from women, while only 21% of those who chose to take the survey were male. The survey asked three core questions:

1. How would you rate:

All Rep

Female representation in marketing materials is perceived as the strongest by far with an average rating, while representation on stage and in capacities of writing and directing was rated as poor by almost half of respondents. Over 90% of responses considered the representation of women as writers, directors and on stage at average or below.

2. Would you be more likely to attend theatre if:

All likely

In terms of directing and writing, these results indicate that a female presence would have a positive effect on theatre goers with 51% and 52% (respectively) of respondents declaring that it would make them more likely to attend a show. Almost 50% of respondents reported that a female writer or director would likely have no effect. The conclusion reached here is that more than half of the market would be more likely to attend theatre if gender parity were achieved, while there is no risk of losing the other half of your audience as it makes no difference to them.

In regards to the main protagonist being played by a woman, the results were significantly higher with 65% of respondents signalling that it would make them more likely to attend.

3. Are your needs as an audience member being met by current main stage programming?

All Needs

Now here is the distress signal to a marketer. Just under half of the surveyed theatre going audience has indicated that their needs are not currently being met by the products on offer. A further 43% have said that their needs are only “somewhat” being met. Only 8% of the surveyed audience is satisfied with the current efforts of main stage programming. This isn’t just a distress signal, this is a potential threat to operations.

The argument could be made that this survey has an overwhelming response from women and does not reflect the male perspective. Firstly, I fail to see the issue as women have been established at theatre’s core audience and secondly, the most fascinating part of this survey is when the statistics are isolated by male respondents only:

1. How would you rate:

Male Rep

The male-only response follows the same trends as the mixed response, with representation in marketing materials perceived to be the strongest area and the large majority noting poor representation for actors, writers and directors. Although there is a higher portion in the male-only sample that believe that representation in these areas are above average or excellent. 

2. Would you be more likely to attend theatre if:

Male likely

The male view is much more apathetic towards women in all positions. The large majority have said that a female director, writer or protagonist would have no effect on them and an encouraging minority have said that it would make them more likely to attend. The conclusion is that promoting gender parity is unlikely to lose any significant portion of the male audience.

3. Are your needs as an audience member being met by current main stage programming?

Male Needs

And finally, while a higher portion of male needs are being met by current programming, the large majority of needs are only “somewhat” being met and there is a very significant portion of needs not being met at all.

The data shows that as a whole, the needs of the theatregoing audience are not being met. This is an obvious indicator to a marketer that a change needs to occur within the product itself. The current offering is not enough to satisfy customers and there is a risk of losing market share is operations continue in their present state.

Furthermore, Promoting Gender Parity Makes Sense Because

1 – Customer Needs Evolve

Very few industries can satisfy customers with the exact same product over a long period of time. This is particularly true of the performing arts. Current theatrical practices have successfully won a large female market share, but companies need to keep track of the needs of their audience. Right now those needs are being expressed with groups such as Women in Theatre and Screen emerging as well as the clear results of the above survey. 

2 – New Audiences

If women currently hold the majority customer base of a product that isn’t strictly targeted towards them then this base should only expand with a product that does meet their needs. The risk of losing the a large portion of the male audience due to gender parity is unlikely because (as the word parity suggests) half of all voices and representation in theatre will still come from the male gender. 

3 – The First Mover Advantage

This is a marketing concept whereby the first company to enter the market with a unique product will win a large market share and higher brand recognition than it’s (slower) competitors. The theatrical landscape is currently ripe for a pro gender parity company (or perhaps even an all female company) to step in and take that first mover advantage.

4 – The Essence of Risk

One of the big selling points of theatre is the element of risk. Delving deep into topics untouched by other mediums with no guarantee of the outcome of the product. Theatre is absolutely the natural medium to pioneer gender parity and it would give marketers a lot to work with. It would be particularly embarrassing for theatre to not have achieved parity by the time one of the less risky mediums of storytelling have.

5 – More Money

Broadway statistics have reported that plays written by women earn an average of 18% more than their male counterparts, while an exercise in analysing the highest grossing films over the last decade indicates that films about women make more money than films about men. I would take the latter study with a grain of salt due to the methodology of taking a film’s domestic gross and subtracting the production costs. Primarily because the production costs only account for how much it takes to make a film and does not include marketing, advertising and distribution. Even so, the trend uncovered in film shouldn’t be ignored. Unless theatre companies subscribe to The Notorious B.I.G.’s philosophy of ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ then it seems like a natural financial move to encourage parity.


6 – Because Economics Says So 

Special thanks goes to my fiancee for pointing out to me that a report published by UNESCO in 2007 found that gender discrimination inhibits socioeconomic growth. This is thinking very long term, however what this essentially means is that promoting equality in all industries (theatre included) would result in higher socioeconomic growth. Basically, women on average would make more money and therefore have more disposable income to spend on activities such as going to the theatre. Admittedly, this is stepping way out of the bounds of marketing and into economics, but promoting gender equality has long term benefits for the arts in general. 

Main Stage vs Independent Theatre

While I can’t back this up with any comprehensive statistics, it would appear that gender parity is significantly more present in the realm of independent theatre. Of the independent shows I have designed over the last four years, 14 were directed by men and 12 by women. 78 acting roles were filled by men and 81 by women. The highest disparity I’ve observed is in the field of writing with 16 shows written by men and 9 written by women. These numbers don’t add up together nicely for a variety of reasons (i.e. Some shows were devised works and may not have a featured a director and/or writer) but the basic statistics of my personal experience indicates that gender parity exists in the independent world, at least in regards to directing and performing.


Not catering a product to your core audience is unusual from a marketing point of view. Although from a theatre company’s perspective, there is currently little motivation to change what is already a financially viable model. Yet promoting gender parity may yield huge benefits in terms of meeting consumer needs, building a larger audience and expanding a production company into a new era. Furthermore, the first company to truly achieve this will benefit greatly through a first mover advantage. 

Theatre is a natural medium to present a reflection of society. If it isn’t serving that purpose then it makes a marketer’s job difficult and narrows the potential customer base of a company. 

Until Next Time

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to join the discussion through the comments below and check us out on facebook. I’ll be back soon with another article promoting the art of marketing for the arts.



4 thoughts on “Why Gender Parity Makes Sense From A Marketing Perspective

  1. Pingback: The True Cost of Theatre and Why it is Unsustainable | Let's Talk Marketing

  2. Pingback: Gender matters in Australian film and equality can’t come soon enough | Stephanie Van Schilt – Farshaaz

  3. Pingback: Gender Parity and Marketing, from Lets Talk Marketing | Women in Theatre and Screen

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