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Women Still Underrepresented Behind the Scenes on TV, New Report Finds

Women held only 30% of key creative, behind-the-scenes positions in primetime television for the 2016-17 season, says Mount Saint Mary’s University seventh annual report on the status of women and girls in California, released Thursday.

The report was accompanied by a paper entitled “Women in Entertainment Media: The Ongoing Fight for Equality” that used two decades of research to compare gender inequalities specifically in television and film.

The paper finds that women’s underrepresentation is especially glaring when it comes to the power position of a series showrunner. There, women made up only 11% in the 2016-17 season, with only 2% of showrunners for 2016-17 being women of color. For the 2016 calendar year, women made up one in four positions (26%) for creative series roles including creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and directors of photography.

The results in television were better than those in film, but still left a lot of room for improvement. Women made up only 18% of key positions in the top 100 grossing films of 2017, and when considering the top 250 films of that same year, 88% had no women directors, 83% had no women writers, 45% had no women executive producers, 28% had no women producers at all, 80% had no women editors, 96% had no women cinematographers and 30% of films had no or only one woman in the aforementioned roles.

Additionally, it was found that films with exclusively male directors and/or writers worked on projects with female protagonists only 18% of the time, whereas the projects with at least one woman director and/or writer featured female protagonists 57% of the time.

The overall report was designed to expose the gender inequality in all workforces — including politics, STEM and medical professional fields — and consider why these obstacles and biases still exist. The findings were that women make up 22% of the state legislature (senators and assembly members), 26% of county supervisors, 31% of city council members, 40% of physicians and surgeons, 42% of life and physical scientists, 38% of attorneys, 21% of computer professionals and 15% of engineering professionals.

In light of the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, both the paper and the report also looked at sexual harassment. The paper noted that sexual harassment is another known major obstacle for women’s progress in entertainment and media, with 42% of women and 15% of men stating they have experienced sexual harassment in at work.

Expanding out to include workplaces beyond this industry, the report stated that a 2017 national poll found that 30% of women across the U.S. have experienced “unwanted sexual advantages” at work, with 23% of women saying they have been sexually harassed by men who were in more powerful positions than they were and had influence over their work.

The paper poses the question of how the agencies pledging “50-50 by 2020” will be held accountable while also touting the successes of those such as the Women’s Media Action Coalition (WeMAC), who has already launched more than half a dozen task forces committed to “lobbying, litigating, continued research, funding projects and assessing tax credits,” as well as Take The Lead, which is “conducting a leadership and movement-building program to create a network of women with tools for navigating the industry that will serve as a model for closing the gender leadership gap,” and Ava DuVernay, who hired only female directors for the first two seasons of her OWN drama “Queen Sugar.”

Additionally, the paper recognizes the importance of continuing to fight to alter pre-conceived notions of representation. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University, for example, uses research to lobby major movie studios for greater gender inclusion in their content, and Davis herself encourages inclusive writing at every level — from parity in background to suggesting male characters be changed to females to challenge an inherent, perhaps unconscious gender bias. Meanwhile, The Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg advocates for the #JustAddFive campaign, which believes that if writers add five female speaking characters to projects, parity could be achieved in just a few years.

The paper also raises questions about curriculum standards mandating inclusion at film schools, to ensure the students of today can not only become the industry creatives of tomorrow and that when they do they will have all of the tools they need, but also that there are more opportunities for those previously overlooked, namely women and people of color.

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