On Thursday 22nd March, I had the pleasure of attending Like A Dude Theatre Company’s workshop and protest that questioned, and ultimately campaigned against, the gender pay gap. The experience was truly extraordinary and genuinely empowering. Here is how it went.
On Thursday morning I headed out and gathered with the other participants outside of the Exeter Community Centre. We were met by one of the workshop and protest facilitators who put us into groups and gave us pretend biographies. The biographies informed us of our gender, age, ethnicity, position in the workplace, how many years we had been working for the company, whether or not we had children and our salary. The biographies were composed by the facilitators to be used in the workshop, inspired by real statistics. She then led us into the workshop space, which they named the “generic workplace” to generate an immersive experience for the participants.
As we entered the “generic workplace”, we were asked to sit around a long table in the middle of the room. Electronic music played as the other facilitators moved busily around the space. It is important to note that the all-female theatre group was dressed in suits and ties, mimicking the typical dress of men in the office workplace. As we sat down, the theatre company treated us to an amazing physical theatre sequence that brought to life the true extent of gendered issues in the workplace. In the piece, they blindfolded the male figures so they could not “see” the literal struggle of the female worker who, complete with a bra and doll for the purpose of accentuation, attempts to get the attention of her male counterparts but to no avail.
The performative element of the workshop was concluded with a verbatim sequence. The facilitators spoke the words of women from the Exeter community, detailing their real experiences of the gender pay gap. Their words, in conjunction with a video compiled of clips and words from International Women’s Day, truly imparted the magnitude of the issue and the amazing work being done to combat it.
The workshop moved on to include the participants. We split off into our groups and moved around the room to engage in different activities that taught us more about the gender pay gap; this afforded us the time and space to recount our own experiences with the problem. The first activity I took part in was adding to the mood board the theatre company had collated. We were asked to use the mood board for inspiration and, following some discussion, we were able to write down our own thoughts and pin them on the board.
The second activity was a game that involved a metaphorical corporate ladder. The aim was to move your “price tag” game piece up the ladder to reach the bonus money at the top by answering questions correctly. Our “price tag” was also being chased by “the boss”, represented by a red arrow. The questions were about the specific percentages demonstrating the gender pay gap within different companies in Exeter, age groups, Devon and the Southwest and the UK in general. The third and final activity was another game that involved throwing bean bags into different bins that represented various solutions to the gender pay gap issue. The solutions included free childcare, more workshops in the workplace to stop unconscious bias and new government legislation. Each solution had a specific number of points on its bin with the trickier solutions worth more points. During the second round of the game, we were asked to contribute our own solutions.
The workshop finished up with a thanks from the facilitators who taught us the lyrics to a song they had created to sing during the protest – it went to the tune of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”!
After the workshop, we moved back outside. The theatre company supplied us with amazing banners and signs to use during the protest and we headed off, en masse, to the city centre. We chanted and sang our way down the high street, stopping at Tesco, Lloyds Bank, Barclays Bank and New Look to call them out on their pay gap. The facilitators used megaphones to reveal the percentage of the pay gap and then left boards outside of each establishment to show the percentages to the rest of the community.
The protest ended at the Exeter City Council building with a few last words from the facilitators and a beautiful spoken word poem. Like A Dude chose to end the protest on a positive note, informing us that the city council has no gender pay gap. The protest could not have concluded better when one of the directors of the council invited the facilitators into the building after hearing the protest, offering to talk them through how they have achieved gender pay equality in the council.
The workshop and the protest were both brilliant experiences. The feelings of empowerment and solidarity on the day were absolutely phenomenal and, in my third and final year of university, I am so glad it is something I took the opportunity to participate in. I will definitely be taking part in more workshops and protests to fight against the gender pay gap and other gendered issues again. I want to say big congratulations to Like A Dude Theatre Company who went above and beyond; they really pulled it out of the bag!
– Laura Ferris
Featured image source.