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Women in TV Score Incremental Employment Gains, Study Finds

Annual report still finds disparity in opportunities for men and women

In the good news/bad news department, women in primetime TV equaled highs in employment on screen and behind the scenes, while continue to lag well behind men by both measures, according to a study released Thursday.

Assembled by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, the annual report — now in its 16th year — found women accounted for 43% of speaking roles in the 2012-13 measurement period. That represents a modest uptick from the previous year and matches levels recorded on 2007-08, the previous high.

Similarly, women accounted for 28% of positions behind the scenes on shows — encompassing series creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography — compared to 26% last year, and 21% when the study began in the late 1990s. (The sample has been expanded to include basic and pay cable as well as programs produced for Netflix, while still using broadcast TV as a basis for year-to-year comparison.)

“Women are experiencing incremental but positive growth,” Martha Lauzen, the center’s executive director, told Variety, noting that while there is still a disparity, “we’re moving in the right direction.”

Despite the modest progress, Lauzen cited various areas of concern. Women of color continue to lag behind in terms of employment opportunities, and jobs for women in broadcast and cable are particularly few in directing (11%) and cinematography (2%). Just under a quarter of exec producers and series creators were women.

In terms of variables seen across the years, having a female showrunner equates most directly to fostering additional parts for women. “When a program does have a female creator, the numbers of female characters do increase,” Lauzen said.

Lauzen also noted that TV is outpacing film in terms of opportunities for women. However, actresses employed in TV are generally younger than their male counterparts: According to the study, 62% of women seen on TV are in their 20s and 30s, while 58% of men are in their 30s and 40s. Historically, studies have found roles for women dwindling more sharply after the age of 40 than they do for men.

Women actually accounted for the highest level of “roles” in reality TV, 44%, and the fewest in drama (40%). Although cable features a number of high-profile programs, such as HBO’s “Girls,” featuring female producers and performers, incorporating those channels didn’t appreciably change the overall picture.

The study does not measure female employment in the executive ranks, only on individual programs.

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