Photo by Michael Prewett on Unsplash

The #MeToo movement that blew up on social media in 2017—originally started by activist Tarana Burke in 2007—highlighted the inequality women face in the film and TV industries. 

Some of the most famous female celebrities publicly shared personal experiences of abuse from the hands of powerful men. This then inspired more women in and outside of popular media to open up on social media about the traumatising events they had to endure because of their gender. 

Hollywood’s Time’s Up campaign in 2018, meanwhile, sought to address this problem by advocating for gender parity in studio and talent agencies, as well as pushing for legislation to punish companies for persistent harassment. 

While these social movements garnered attention and resulted in action regarding on-screen talent, it’s also important to recognise the existing challenges of diversity for the people working behind the camera. 

Women in Film

One high-profile case that marked the lack of diversity in the realm of film directing was the 82-woman silent protest during the 2018 Cannes Film Festival

At the red carpet, these 82 women stood for the total number of female directors that have had their work compete through all 71 years of the festival’s existence. It’s a paltry number compared to the 1,866 male directors whose movies have been shown in Cannes. 

Just as sobering is the fact that the festival’s grand prize for directing, the Palme d’Or, has only been awarded to two women—Jane Campion and Agnes Varda.

Reinforcing the disparity of female to male film directors in Hollywood, the 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report states that less than 1 out of 10 film directors are female. 

The Western European film industry has a more positive picture, but not as good as we’d hope. According to the latest EWA Network Study, only one in five films has a woman in the director’s chair.

Zeroing in on the UK’s film industry, in 2016 it was six times more likely that a man will direct a film than a woman, however women make up 47% of the country’s film labour force. 

This contrast shows the large gap women still have to cross to hold leading positions, such as directing and key technical production roles, even with their sizeable presence. 

Barbara Broccoli, chair of the UK Film Skills Task Force and noted producer, spearheaded the launch of a 10-point skills plan in 2017. This aims to improve the level of diversity in the UK’s film industry, as well as nurture talent that would fill the burgeoning creative field. 

Women in Television

Women in the UK television industry share similarities with the positive and negative representation that women in filmmaking have. 

  • Leadership roles

According to a range of different broadcasters (such as BBC, Channel 4, and ITV), as well as data collected in the 2012 Creative Skillset survey, 45% of the national TV industry are made up of women workers. 

Much like in film, women are more likely to be holding junior level positions and are underrepresented in technical roles and senior level positions.

  • Genre

Women are also very much limited in the genres they have key influence over in the UK. 

Local dramas, sci-fi, and entertainment shows rarely have female directors. Even in news broadcasting, female representation is lacking. Directors and presenters of hard news are roles reserved mostly for men, and women are hardly invited on to speak as experts and commentators.

Live sports coverage is one particular area where women are very rarely seen in directorial roles. 

Lise Cosimi, HBS Chief of External Relations, noted the lack of women sports directors. She mentioned the difficulty in finding not only directors but also engineers, camera operators, and other production roles filled by women.

  • Creating and writing

Back over in Hollywood, the figures still show the need for more female representation, both in creating and writing TV series. 

The 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report states that in the 2015 to 2016 seasons, women made up only 22.1% of show creators for scripted broadcast series and only 16.9% for scripted cable series. 

For credited writers on TV in the same time frame, only 35.2% were women for scripted broadcast series and 31.5% were women for scripted cable series. Of the scripted shows that debuted in the 2017 to 2018 seasons, only 15.6% were created by women.

Women in Marketing 

The importance of video production in the marketing industry continues to grow unabated, especially on social media platforms where consumers deem video as their favourite type of content. 

In meeting the demands of diverse demographics, it is essential that the creatives working in the field can genuinely reflect the experiences that resonate with these different audiences. 

The UK advertising industry boasts of women taking up more than half of junior positions in agencies, as noted by Campaign’s 2016 feature on gender in advertising

Unfortunately, and to no surprise given the state of gender inequality in film and TV, the report also states that only 30.5% of senior roles (such as chief executive and managing director) are taken up by women. This echoes the trend of stifling women’s career tracks to climb the ladder to leadership positions.

Nishma Robb, Ads Marketing Director of Google in the UK, recounted her realisation of the gender gap in advertising, speaking of attending meetings as a person in a leadership role and not seeing any other women. 

Additionally, Robb supports the idea of meeting quotas to have a healthy percentage of women in leadership positions. She also advises women to be proud of their accomplishments and capabilities, take notice and call out problems in the workplace, and to build a network. 

As for the marketing campaigns agencies create for businesses, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) implemented on June 2019 a rule that does not allow advertisements presenting sexist stereotypes. Ads showing men and women performing acts that reinforce gender-stereotypical norms can be reported by the public to the ASA. 

Along with this rule is the banning of ads promoting body transformation for romantic success, as well as the clarification of the rules regarding the sexualisation of young women.

The new rule was enforced for the first time on August 14 when it banned television ads from VW and from Philadelphia. The VW ad shows men engaging in adventurous activities while one woman was sitting with a pram. The Philadelphia ad shows a father leaving his baby on a conveyor belt.

“Harmful gender stereotypes in ads contribute to how people see themselves and their role in society,” ASA’s gender stereotyping project lead Ella Smillie said upon publicly introducing the rule.

Evidence Case for Workplace Diversity

The advocacy for gender parity in the video production industry, as well as in workplaces at large, makes sense not just on moral and creative levels but also on economic grounds. 

In the McKinsey & Company 2015 report Diversity Matters—where they surveyed 366 public companies from different industries in the UK, US, and Latin America—those in the top quartile of gender diversity were more likely to surpass the national industry median for financial returns by 15%.

Much conversation has been had about women’s roles in front of and behind the camera. While all the media noise in the past few years helps with spreading awareness, it still needs to translate into more sustained action. 


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