Women Reach Historic Highs in On-Screen, Behind the Scenes TV Roles

The number of women in speaking roles on television hit a new high in 2018-2019, as did the number of women working behind the camera.

According to the 22nd annual Boxed In report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, female characters comprised 45% of all speaking characters across comedies, dramas, and reality shows on broadcast, cable, and streaming. That is up from 40% in 2017-2018. In addition, the percentage of major female characters increased by the same amount year.

Off-screen, 31% of all creators, directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and directors of photography in television were women, beating the previous high of 28% set in 2016-2017.

“It is heartening to see moderate but widespread gains for female characters and women working behind the scenes this year, but we need to consider the numbers within the larger context of women’s employment in television,” said Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center. “In 2018-19, women comprised 26% of directors. This is a historic high, up from 17% in 2017-18. However, men continue to direct the vast majority of programs. In this context, ‘historic high’ still means that men outnumber women 3 to 1 in this role.”

The report also found that 96% of the programs considered had no women directors of photography, 79% had no women directors, 77% had no women editors, and 77% had no women creators. But the number of female creators and executive producers ticked up from the previous year. The number of female creators increased to 25%, up from 22% in 2017-2018. The number of female executive producers rose from 26% to 30% in the same time frame.

In 2018-19, the study tracked over 5,100 characters and more than 5,000 behind-the-scenes credits. The study
considers one randomly selected episode of series appearing on the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CW),
basic cable channels (A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, Bravo, Discovery, Disney, E, Freeform, FX, HGTV, History, Nickelodeon, TBS, TLC, TNT, USA), premium cable channels (HBO, Showtime), and streaming services (Amazon, Hulu, Netflix).

Over the last 22 years, the study has monitored over 43,000 characters and more than 55,000 behind-the-scenes credits.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • An Emmy statue is displayed during

    Expect High Heat and Traffic for Emmys Sunday

    If you work in TV, are a fan of TV, or are in fact a TV yourself, the 71st Primetime Emmys promise to be a treat. Television’s biggest awards show takes place in Los Angeles on Sunday night, with some of Hollywood’s brightest stars set to appear as the entertainment community honors the best of [...]

  • Roma Cinematography

    'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' and 'Roma' Win LMGI Awards for Motion Pictures

    Two major 2018 releases – actioner “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and critics’ darling “Roma” – were honored for film location work by the Location Managers Guild International at a ceremony this evening at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The 6th Annual LMGI Awards also recognized “Chernobyl” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” [...]

  • Viacom Channels Grab 'Seinfeld' Cable Rerun

    Viacom Channels Grab 'Seinfeld' Cable Rerun Rights

    Viacom has sealed a deal with Sony Pictures Television for the cable rights to “Seinfeld” starting in October 2021. The deal comes on the heels of a blockbuster new deal between Sony and Netflix for the streaming rights to the beloved NBC sitcom that also begins in 2021. “Seinfeld” reruns have been a staple of [...]

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

  • Elite Season 2

    San Sebastian: Spain’s SVOD Players Debate Competition, Brand, Talent

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — Executives from HBO, Netflix, Amazon and Movistar+ and “Elite” co-creator Darío Madrona took to the stage to field questions on the Global Impact of Spanish Series. Here, briefly, are five takeaways: 1.Spain First “La Casa de Papel” was watched by 34,355,956 Netflix accounts over its first seven days,  after a July 19 [...]

  • Samsung Makes Bid to Keep Viewers

    Samsung Makes Bid to Keep Viewers From Skipping Fox Ad Breaks

    Fox is hoping to knit together the seconds-long divide between a TV program and the commercials that support it. During ad breaks for a few football broadcasts, tomorrow’s run of the Emmys and Wednesday’s season premiere of “The Masked Singer,” the network will kick off ad sessions with special show promos that display artistic renderings [...]

  • Patria

    HBO Europe Unveils ‘Patria’ Footage to Captive San Sebastian Audience

    SAN SEBASTIAN — Amid large expectation, HBO Europe has revealed first footage giving a first sense of tone and pace of its Spanish original series “Patria.” A packed-to-overflowing press conference on Saturday morning at the San Sebastian Festival can be read as one sign of the potential popularity of the eight-part series. The panel sneak-peek [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content