What New Data Reveal About Gender and Race in a Creative Workforce

This entry was coauthored by Leah Krauss, Senior Program Officer for Dance and Special Projects, Mertz Gilmore Foundation

If you have been following the #OscarsSoWhite and #TonysNotSoWhite campaigns that are dominating public discussion of this year's arts and entertainment awards, then you already know that when it comes to workforce demographics in the creative sector, the numbers matter. Developing an inclusive and equitable workforce requires baseline demographic data to guide action and measure progress over time.

"Diversity in the New York City Dance Community," commissioned by the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and prepared by Ithaka S+R, is the latest in a spate of new research focused on better understanding the dynamics of nonprofit arts and culture. The discipline-specific report furthers the movement to create equity by shedding light on the gender and racial makeup of the dance workforce, both artistic and administrative, as represented by the staffs and boards of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs' grantees.

The report offers some encouraging news for nonprofit dance: in terms of gender and racial diversity, dance leads the wider cultural workforce and the major disciplines of theater, music, and museums among the department's grantees.

At 58%, the percentage of female dance workers significantly outpaces the cultural workforce (53% female) and even the New York City population as a whole (also 53% female, according to recent census data).

Using categories from the 2000 U.S. Census, the data show 54% of the dance workforce is non-Hispanic white, 17% is black or African American, 10% is Hispanic, 7% is Asian, 3% is two or more races, 0.5% is Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and 0.3% is American Indian or Alaskan Native. These data suggest that dance organizations are less racially homogeneous than the wider cultural workforce, which is 62% non-Hispanic white, and could play a role in modeling inclusive practices to colleague disciplines.

But the data also show plenty of room for progress. For instance, while racially diverse relative to the full arts sample, dance does not come close to reflecting the racial makeup of the New York City population, which is 33% non-Hispanic white. In general, racial diversity in the workforce decreases the farther one looks up the ladder of seniority, from junior to senior staff positions. Approximately 72% of dance board members are non-Hispanic white.

The data also do not get granular enough to show the scarcity of female choreographers and artistic directors, especially at the largest dance institutions, a fact well known to field insiders.

Above all, the findings make the case for action to help the dance workforce to better mirror the city's racial diversity. They invite constructive responses for policy and programs to address racial inequities that exist along the continuum of career readiness and advancement in dance--from enhanced classroom practices to paid internships and leadership and antiracism training at dance organizations.

While work to increase racial diversity in dance is of clear value, concurrent action is needed to address workforce demographics that were not a meaningful part of the study and are too often excluded from discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion--for instance, disability, LGBTQ, and socioeconomic status. Recent research by the service organization Dance/NYC reveals the paucity of disabled artists and the entrenched patterns of exclusion in our field that need to be addressed.

The opportunity for local government and philanthropic action to create equity in dance is particularly ripe because the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs is starting work on the city's first comprehensive cultural plan this year, and is actively identifying and supporting new ways to promote diversity in the cultural community. The Theater Subdistrict Council has announced a $2 million funding initiative to train underrepresented theater professionals, a model that we recommend adapting for dance. Taking an expansive view to this work is critical to ensuring that dance becomes truly inclusive of the interests of all of New York City's artists and communities.

We advocate for improving the generation and tracking of demographic data on dance and for putting this data to work in shaping local policy and practice. At the same time, we offer dance up as a case study. A data-driven approach to creating equity can and should be applied to colleague disciplines and in additional geographies.