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Women Exec Producers Strongly Influence Female Employment in TV: Study

When women run the show, more women get hired. That’s the major finding of the latest study of female employment in television by Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

The annual “Boxed In” survey, now in its 18th year, found a clear correlation between shows that had a least one female creator or exec producer and the level of female representation throughout the production, from actors to editors.

During the 2014-15 season, on shows with at least one female exec producer, 42% of characters were female, compared to 35% of characters on shows with no female exec producers. Among writers, the difference was stark: 32% of writers were female on shows with a female exec producer, compared to 8% on shows with only male exec producers. Among directors, the difference was 18% vs. 10%, and among editors it was 37% vs. 13%.

Overall, Lauzen’s study found that women comprised 23% of exec producers, up 2% from the 2013-14 season. Among writers, 25% in the programs surveyed were female, a decline of 1% from 2013-14. Women accounted for 12% of directors, a decline of 1% from the prior frame. The number of women editors has reached 20%, a 4% gain from 2013-14. The number of female d.p.’s remains stubbornly low at 1%, unchanged from 2013-14.

As a survey of the total TV job market, the study is limited as it only covers 14 outlets: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, the CW, plus Netflix and cablers HBO, Showtime, A&E, AMC, FX, History, TNT and USA Network. And the numbers were crunched based on a random sampling of a single episode from each program on those nets.

The WGA West’s most recent employment survey, covering 36 broadcast and cable networks, found that women accounted for 15.1% of exec producer positions in the 2013-14 season, a decline of 3.5% from the 2011-12 season. The DGA’s latest survey of 3,910 episodes of more than 270 series across broadcast and cable found that women accounted for 16% of episodic TV directors in the 2014-15 season. The DGA survey also reflected the huge spike in the volume of series production, noting that the number of episodes employing directors jumped 10% last season from the 3,562 surveyed in 2013-14.

Despite abundant anecdotal evidence that women are rising farther and faster in television than ever before thanks to the production boom, Lauzen asserts that the proportionate growth rate of female employment has stalled.

“There is a perception gap between how people think women are faring in television, both on screen and behind the scenes, and their actual employment,” Lauzen said. “We are no longer experiencing the incremental growth we saw in the late 1990s and 2000s.”

Among other findings from the “Boxed In” study:

  • Of programs surveyed, 57% employed four or fewer women as exec producers, writers, directors, editors or d.p. Only 5% of shows employed four of fewer men in those roles.
  • Women accounted for 22% of show creators, a gain of 3% from 2013-14.
  • Females accounted for 40% of all characters and 40% of major characters across all shows surveyed. Some 78% of those characters were white.
  • Women face a higher hurdle when it comes to age. The majority of female characters (60%) were presented as in the age range of 20s and 30s. Only 19% of female characters were depicted as in their 40s. The majority of male characters (55%) were depicted as in their 30s and 40s.
  • Reality shows were the most likely to feature female characters, at 47%. Femmes account for 41% of characters in sitcoms and 40% of characters in dramas.

(Pictured: The CW featured a panel of female exec producers at its TCA session in August)

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