They say a lot can change in a year. For the television industry on many levels that’s certainly been true, thanks in no small part to the rise of social media, which has given a platform to fans to use their voices to speak out against inequalities they see happening. Gone are the days where television shows can go an entire season without a female director and no one noticing or calling attention to it. It’s clear now that people are watching and listening, especially when it comes to diversity. Despite the fact that we’re still smack dab in the middle of the Peak TV era, unfortunately the problems with gender diversity behind the scenes in television haven’t changed all that much.
A little over a year ago, The TV Junkies kicked off the inaugural round of our Women Behind Canadian TV series, in which we spoke with 17 women holding prominent positions behind the scenes of Canadian television’s most popular shows. These women shared their stories of dealing with gender inequality, how diversity plays a role in their day to day jobs and what changes they think need to happen in order to further bridge the gender gap. Looking back now on that series the obvious question is “has it gotten any better?”
“I feel so lucky to be on a show that puts women at the centre,” actress Tatiana Maslany famously said upon winning her Emmy last fall for Orphan Black. While Maslany’s win was celebrated by many in the Canadian television industry, things are still pretty disheartening when it comes to recognition for women in writing and directing categories. In fact, women only accounted for 22 per cent of the nominees for writing and directing in comedy and drama series at both the Emmy and Canadian Screen Awards in 2016.
One could easily argue that the reason more women aren’t getting nominated is because there simply aren’t as many women writing and directing behind the scenes. According to the Writers Guild of Canada, 33 per cent of their members are women, a number that’s been relatively stable for the past five years. Perhaps, as with most issues, it all starts at the top, and more women need to be put in showrunner positions for gender equality to then “filter downstream.”
Sadly, women still aren’t getting equal opportunities when it comes to directing the ship. In an investigation done by Variety in the U.S., for the 2016-17 season on the five broadcast networks, 90 per cent of showrunners are white and almost 80 per cent are male. Scripted Canadian TV for Fall 2016 and projecting through Summer 2017 fares slightly better as 64 per cent of all showrunners are male.
The need for more women showrunners plays a factor because of who they hire. A U.S. study found that 50 per cent more women would be placed on writing staffs as opposed to the 15 per cent for shows that have a male creator. It’s easy to derive that the same would be true for other positions such as editor, camera crew and director. The numbers for women directing in television across the board are downright abysmal. Of the 267 episodes of scripted Canadian television series investigated by The TV Junkies for the 2016-17 season, only 62of those episodes were directed by women.1 That means only 23 per cent of all scripted shows for Canadian TV in 2016-17 were directed by women.
The good news is, that while 23 per cent may seem small, it does mean Canada is doing better than the U.S., where the Directors Guild of America reported only 17.1 per cent of episodes directed by women. Conscious steps to change are also being made, not just by individuals doing the hiring, but by networks such as CBC who made a commitment to increase the number of female directors on their scripted series. Not only that, but CBC has created the Breaking Barriers Film Fund that looks to finance projects written or directed by Canadian women, Indigenous persons, visible minorities and persons with a disability.
Last February also saw the launch of 2xMore, a three year initiative that aims to double the number of Canadian women directing screen-based media from 17 per cent to 35 per cent. In less than a year, the program has already fostered seven first-time female directors on TV sets. But the fact remains, women are still very far behind when it comes to opportunities not only at directing, but in all behind the scenes positions in the industry.
Here at The TV Junkies we know we’re not alone in this fight and in wanting to see change happen. Let’s keep the discussions moving forward and further draw attention to the uphill battle women have in front of them as they attempt to bridge that gender gap. In order to do that, we’ve decided to bring back our Women Behind Canadian TV series over the next several weeks to highlight and talk to a brand new set of women.
Stay tuned for a series of interviews with women from all areas of TV production. We’ll be talking to women writers, showrunners, directors, producers and more who have succeeded and hold prominent positions in Canadian television. They’ll share their experiences as women working in an industry still dominated by men, how they have succeeded, their daily struggles and where they believe change still needs to happen. By sharing their stories, we hope to get one step closer to shrinking the gender gap and make a move towards true equality behind the scenes.
1. For the sake of transparency, all research and charts compiled can be found in the spreadsheet located here.↩
Thoughts or comments? Share them below! Find all our coverage of the Women Behind Canadian TV series here.
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.