The old adage about London buses is that you wait forever for one, and then three show up. Something similar is happening now in Britain’s media and entertainment industry, as a number of long-simmering issues regarding gender equality surge to the fore in an extraordinary confluence that has many women feeling hopeful of meaningful change at last.
On issues such as pay parity, anti-harassment and gender diversity, advocates are speaking out and demanding action. They’re increasingly raising their voices in concert instead of individually, eager to capture not just a “women’s moment” but women’s momentum in a post-Harvey Weinstein era. Inspired by Time’s Up in Hollywood, dozens of prominent British women in show business — including Keira Knightley, Emma Thompson and Daisy Ridley — are in the process of forming their own version of the movement.
“It’s all connected,” said Kate Kinninmont, head of advocacy group Women in Film and Television. “Everything that could happen is happening — but everything is good.”
Take Jan. 31: On that day in London, a veteran journalist appeared before a parliamentary committee to blast the BBC for paying her less than her male counterparts. At the same time, four comedy writers and performers announced the launch of their Kickstarter-funded all-female production company. That morning, actors union Equity was reported to be drawing up proposals to consign the casting couch to history. A few hours later, news emerged that many women will wear black to the BAFTA awards Feb. 18, following the example of attendees at the Golden Globes.
That sartorial statement is the first public gambit of Britain’s nascent Time’s Up campaign. “We are working to continue the incredible movement this side of the Atlantic,” said a letter encouraging women in the industry to get involved. “We feel it is important to make a statement to show global solidarity and that the issue is not being forgotten.”
By the end of last month, the British Time’s Up initiative had attracted the support of nearly 50 women, many of them well-known internationally. Most are actresses, including Emma Watson, Carey Mulligan and Gemma Arterton, but the list boasts such luminaries as James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli, screenwriter and playwright Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady”) and director Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”).
Besides wearing black at the BAFTA ceremony, the group is hoping to establish a fund similar to the one started by Time’s Up in Hollywood. At this point, organizers envisage the fund being used not only to defray costs for women caught up in legal proceedings but also to boost other groups dedicated to women’s equality and welfare.
The British industry is putting the finishing touches on guidelines to prevent and confront bullying and harassment. Dozens of organizations have contributed to the effort, which is being spearheaded by BAFTA and the British Film Institute, among others. The industry-wide guidelines are expected to be unveiled before the BAFTA awards.
Pressure for long-overdue change is also being directed at one of Britain’s most beloved institutions: the BBC. Last summer, the pubcaster caused a stir when it revealed that two-thirds of its top-paid stars were men, with an organization-wide gender pay gap of 9.3%. The furor over the disparity subsided for a time but re-erupted with a vengeance last month, when BBC News China editor Carrie Gracie quit her post because she was being paid less than her male peers. The move has galvanized women at the Beeb to demand immediate redress.
Many of them scoffed at a report, commissioned by the BBC, that said last week that there was “no evidence of gender bias” in salary decisions, though there were plenty of “anomalies that need addressing.” A day later, with former and current female presenters sitting behind her in support, Gracie told a parliamentary committee that the pay gap was “damaging the credibility of the BBC in a completely unacceptable way.”
Although this has been a live issue for months, the heightened awareness of sexism and power imbalance in the workplace has lent more urgency to equal pay and other matters concerning women. “What’s good now is that everybody is listening,” Kinninmont said. “They’re standing back and saying, ‘All right, we need to change our model.’”
Gracie took the BBC to task for not practicing the values it preaches. “Truth is our business,” she told lawmakers. “We go around challenging companies in the U.K. and internationally. … Why wouldn’t we do it in the BBC? The BBC has got to be honest, and now’s the time.”
In other words: Time’s up.