As the new TV season starts, we get the annual look Boxed In: Employment of Behind-the-Scenes and OnScreen Women in 2012-13 Prime-time Television from Dr. Martha Lauzen at San Diego State (god bless her, she’s now done this for 16 years since 1997-98) that shows how women fared behind the scenes and onscreen.
Women account for 28% of all individuals working as creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography. This represents an increase of two percentage points from 2011-2012 and only a 7% increase in 16 years. Yes, women are doing better. But I’m not going to shout from the streets that things are great, because we are still struggling to get to 30% in ALL roles behind the scenes in TV. Sixteen years ago we started at 21% and now we are at 28%. To me, that still sucks.
One particular statistic in the study that made me VERY upset is the DECREASE in women show creators. Last year women created 24% of the shows. That is down 2 points from the previous year and an increase of only 6% in 16 years.
One of the things to understand about this study is the terminology. In television business people who are listed as executive producers and producers are writers. There are some executive producers — the most senior level writing position on the staff — of shows that are not writers like Betsy Beers, who is Shonda Rhimes’ partner, but the majority of the people who are defined as executive producers are writers. They are not producers like movie producers. There are multiple levels of producers and writers and this study tracks the terms executive producers, producers and writers — all writing terms in TV.
Last year, women account for 27% of executive producers. This represents an increase of 2 percentage points from and an increase of 8 percentage points since 1997-98. The other two categories counted are producers and writers. Those two positions are some of the lowest on the writing totem pole. It is no surprise that there are more women in those positions. The study shows that women are getting the entry level positions, but the question is, do they get promoted? The answer is clear from the numbers. Last year women made up 38% of producers and 34% of writers. Women writers (the lowest staff position) have increased 14% in the study time period but the number of women executive producers has only increased 8% in the same time period.
Another troubling statistic is that women made up just 12% of directors. This is only a 1% increase from 2011-12, and only 4 points in 16 years. (Imagine if we didn’t have Shonda Rhimes and now Callie Khouri actually being proactive about hiring women.) Nashville hired 6 women (out of 22) to direct last season. This shows the effect that one woman in power can make. And in the not shocking at all department, the study shows that when women are the creators they create more women characters.
Onscreen women made up 43% of all speaking characters and 43% of major characters in 2012-13. This is 2 points up from last year and THE SAME AMOUNT as sixteen years ago. So that means we have not made any forward motion in the area of women speaking characters in over a decade and a half.
Others unsurprising points: women are younger, mostly white, and are seen working less than men.
All in all the numbers do show increases in certain areas, but we must look at the big picture here. I’m not going to be happy when we still can’t get women to make up 30% of the jobs behind the scenes in TV. We must keep pushing forward and not think that things are great — they are not and the numbers make that very clear.