Recognising amazing work by women is the first step to gender equality

As the WOW Women in the Creative Industries Awards are announced, Sarah Crompton reflects on the wealth of women doing incredible things in the creative sector

Blanche McIntyre, Katie Mitchell and Glenda Jackson
Blanche McIntyre, Katie Mitchell and Glenda Jackson
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

I have been helping to chair the judging panel for the WOW Women in Creative Industries awards, which are being run by Jude Kelly and the Southbank Centre – and I am feeling rather proud of us.

Our list of nominees celebrates women from across the creative sector. They run across disciplines, they encompass genderqueer and non-binary nominees, and they recognise qualities such as bravery, tenacity and inspiration in the arts. The names we’ve chosen are, I think, a satisfying mixture of the well-known and the behind the scenes power-houses.

So our Bold Moves nominees (for women who have taken ambitious actions either personally or in their work) include Katie Mitchell, the theatre director, for "her commitment to putting the voices of women centre-stage and giving them agency and power" and Glenda Jackson, for demanding to play King Lear and returning to the stage at an age when most people are thinking of retiring. But also Maria Oshodi, who founded Extant, Britain’s leading professional performing arts company for visually impaired performers and Juno Dawson, the trans author for addressing LGBT issues in young adult fiction.

I was struck by just how many women out there are doing the most amazing work

Among the women we want to applaud for Fighting the Good Fight – keeping going in the face of continual obstacles – are Kate Mosse, founder of the Orange Prize for Fiction, and Rachel Whiteread, the sculptor, but also Sarah Frankcom at the Royal Exchange and Mira Kaushik Director of Akademi, who has supported and nurtured South Asian dance.

There are categories for gender champions, for inspiring change and for breaking new ground as well as an outstanding achievement award for work in 2016-17 and a lifetime achievement award which will be given without nominees being announced in advance.

My fellow judges were a brilliant bunch: Tate director Maria Balshaw, Anne-Marie Curtis, editor in chief of Elle magazine, Martin Green, CEO of Hull City of Culture, Amy Lamé, London’s Night Czar, John McGrath of Manchester International Festival, Julie Peyton Jones, now senior global director of Thaddaeus Ropac, Nikesh Shukla, author and editor of The Good Immigrant, and Deborah Williams CEO at Creative Diversity Network.
As we began our deliberations, bringing a long longlist down to up to six nominees in each category, I was struck by just how much talent we were considering – how many women out there are doing the most amazing work in bringing about change and creating work of massive impact and importance. My only regret is we can’t give prizes to all of them.

It is so important to look – and to learn to recognise and support women

What I realised was just how important it is to look – and to learn to recognise and support women making their mark in many fields. Our concentration on their contribution revealed all kinds of work that it would be all too easy to miss if you weren’t committed to making sure it is acknowledged. It was an inspiring and uplifting process because you suddenly saw just how many positive things on going on.

It made me think of something I remember a male administrator saying at Tonic Theatre’s gender equality conference last year; it was only when they started really examining the issue that they realised just how marginalised women theatre-makers in their region were becoming. The simple act of recognition effected change, because it made everyone – men and women – conscious of the problem.

Rupert Goold might have been planning his Almeida season for years or he might just have been prompted to programme it

So when I saw the Almeida Theatre’s season announcement yesterday, I raised a small internal cheer. The Almeida has been a powerhouse of London theatre over the past year, but although women were undoubtedly centre stage in plays such as Mary Stuart and Albion (thanks to some dazzling performances), they were a little light on the writing and directing fronts. Quite a lot of people pointed that out.

Quietly and without making any fuss about it, Rupert Goold has redressed that this year. First up is a new play, The Writer, by Ella Hickson (whose ambitious Oil was one of the terrific plays by women writers that got squeezed out of the awards lists) directed by Blanche McIntyre. Then there’s a revival of Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal, directed by Natalie Abrahami. Next is a piece from the innovative Ontroerend Goed and then another new play by a woman: Clare Barron’s Dance Nation.

Now Rupert Goold might have been planning that season for years; or he might just have been prompted to programme a lot of work by women to balance up 2017’s man-heavy year. Either way it shows he is looking and noticing. And that in itself is a very good thing.

The WOW Women in Creative Industries awards winners will be announced on Wednesday 7 March 2018 as part of Southbank Centre’s Women of the World festival. For more information head to the Southbank Centre website.