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Female Characters Are More Diverse But Employment of Women in TV Stalls

Female characters on broadcast TV grew more diverse last season but the employment of women in behind-the-scenes roles has stalled at about 26% of the TV production workforce. Those are among the key findings of the annual “Boxed In” study of women in television conducted by Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

Lauren’s survey found that women accounted for 39% of all characters with speaking roles in the 2015-16 season across broadcast, cable and streaming platforms. That’s a decline from 40% in 2014-15 season. Broadcast TV had the highest percentage of femme characters at 41%, followed by streaming (38%) and cable (33%).

Broadcast TV has also led the charge in TV in presenting more diverse characters. Although the overwhelming majority of characters (71%) remain white, that’s down 6 percentage points from last season. African-American women achieved a historical high at 17%, up 2% from last year. Latino women were up to 5%, up from 3% in the previous season, while Asian women also accounted for 5% of characters, up from 4%.

Meanwhile, women comprised 26% of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and directors of photography of shows across broadcast, cable and streaming. That’s essentially unchanged over the past four seasons.

The “Boxed In” survey, now in its 19th year, is limited in its scope as the stats are drawn from an analysis of one randomly selected episode of every drama, comedy and reality series airing on ABC, CBS, CW, NBC, Fox, A&E, AMC, Discovery, Freeform, FX, HGTV, History, TBS, TNT, USA Network, HBO, Showtime, Amazon, Hulu and Netflix. But there’s enough of a pattern to see that women still have a long way to go to achieve parity on either side of the camera.

“Women continue to be dramatically under-employed in key behind-the-scenes positions that help shape what we see on screen. When women assume gatekeeping roles as creators or executive producers, we see more female characters overall, more females as major characters, and more women writers and directors,” Lauzen said. “Creators and executive producers act as our cultural architects. Constructing a more inclusive televisual world on screen begins with employing a more inclusive behind-the-scenes community.”

According to the report, 20% of all series creators in the 2015-16 season were female, down from 22% in 2014-15. The greatest percentage of women in behind-the-scenes roles held the title of producer (36%), followed by writer (27%), exec producer (25%), editor (22%), director (11%) and director of photography (3%). The study found that shows across the spectrum were more likely to have significant female characters if there were at least one women working in a prominent behind the scenes role.

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