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Sixty-Four Percent of Diverse TV Writers Experience Discrimination or Harassment on the Job, New Report Finds

Sixty-four percent of diverse writers working in television today have experienced bias, discrimination or harassment, including seeing their pitches rejected only for a non-diverse writer to pitch the same idea and get accepted, a new report finds.

In addition to the 64% of diverse writers that experienced bias, discrimination and/or harassment, 58% said they experienced microaggressions in the room. Fifty-eight percent also reported that they experienced pushback when pitching a non-stereotypically diverse character or diverse storyline, and 53% reported rejection upon pitching a specific idea but when a non-diverse writer pitched the same idea later, it was accepted from that writer.

The “Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity” (TTIE) report, from a consortium of working TV writers and therapist Alton Carswell (MA, LMFT), was put together to dig deeper into how working Hollywood writers who identify as women or non-binary, LGBTQ, people of color and people with disabilities fare within the writers’ rooms. The report reveals that many of these hires fall into “checking the box” for diversity hire but do not provide ample opportunities for these writers to advance their careers.

The TTIE Diversity Report relied on a survey from working writers to gather its data and acknowledges that the numbers only reflect the participants in the survey, not all of Hollywood. The writers reflected in this survey include 68% writers who identify as female or non-binary, 67% people of color, 32% LGBTQ and 14% people with disabilities. Eighty-three percent of these individuals are members of the Writers Guild of America, with the majority at 80% part of WGAW and only 3% WGAE. Five percent are part of WGC, 6% are members of IATSE and 13% are non-union. Of these writers, 43% make up the staff writer to executive story editor level, while 15% are producers and co-producers, and 35% are supervising producers and higher.

Forty-two percent of these writers surveyed reported they got their first or second job as a diversity hire; 73% of diverse writers reported repeating a title at least once; and 15% reported that they took a demotion in order to take the job in the first place. Thirty-four percent of the women and non-binary writers reported being the only woman or non-binary member of the writing staff, while 38% of writers with disabilities reported being the only one, 65% of people of color reported being the only one, and 68% of LGBTQ writers reported being the only one.

When polled about the group these writers thought to be the most resistant to inclusive story content, 61% reported showrunners, while 41% reported network, 37% reported general writers’ room, 36% reported the No. 2 on staff and 35% reported the studio. However, 51% reported that they have never worked on a show that featured all non-diverse main characters.

The survey, which was conducted online between July 28 and Sept. 1 of last year, consists of responses from 282 working television writers and/or writing program/fellowship alumni. Fifty-two percent of the writers participated in a fellowship or writing program, and when asked what they were able to accomplish within one year of completing their program, 67% reported receiving staffing meetings; 60% reported that they were staffed on a show; and 58% reported that they secured representation (i.e. agent, manager).

The report suggests a few ways to improve not only representation but also treatment of such writers, including the need for the WGA, agencies, production companies, studios and networks to work together to collect, track and review inclusion and equity data for staffing submissions — as well as for the ranks within the writers’ rooms. Additionally, it called for more mentorship and educational programs, including establishing a “showrunners’ think tank” that would identify and disseminate best practices and be incorporated into the WGA showrunners’ training program, which the report also proposed should become mandatory for all new showrunners.

Additional training in areas of discrimination and harassment and establishing a code of conduct would be advised, per the report, as would creating clear guidelines for title promotion in the WGA Minimum Basic Agreement, and instituting additional programs to financially incentivize promotions for diverse writers, while sanctioning shows or upper level writers who abuse these programs.

The report also calls for the WGA and industry players to unite and commit to “an independent third-party reporting system” for bias, discrimination and harassment in order to enforce sanctions for offenders, as well as to provide transparency when implementing these new steps. Annual reviews of the programs and exit interviews with diverse writers were advised in order to further track progress and be held accountable for progress, or lack thereof.

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