TV shows with female showrunners are much more likely to employ more female writers, directors, editors and actresses than programs with exclusively male executive producers or creators, according to a new study.
“The findings suggest that creators and executive producers play an instrumental role in shifting the gender dynamics for both on-screen characters and other individuals working in powerful behind-the-scenes roles,” said the report’s author, Dr. Martha Lauzen, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. “For example, on broadcast programs with at least one female creator, women comprised 50% of writers. On programs with no female creators, women comprised 15% of writers.”
The 18th annual “Boxed In” report, which looked at one randomly sampled episode from every broadcast, cable and Netflix series that aired during the 2014-15 season, also found that on broadcast programs with at least one woman executive producer, women accounted for 15% of directors, compared with 9% of directors on shows with no women executive producers. Likewise, women made up 43% of major onscreen characters on broadcast programs with at least one female EP versus only 37% on shows where there was no female executive producer. Female editors were nearly twice as likely to find jobs on network shows with at least one female exec producer – 25% compared to only 13% when none of the executive producers are women.
The report, however, found that it makes no difference who’s running the show when it comes to female directors of photography, because almost nobody is hiring them. According to the report, women accounted for only 2% of the directors of photography for all TV shows last season.
And the numbers aren’t getting much better for women in broadcast television. The report found that females accounted for 42% of all speaking roles and 27% of all creators, executive producers, producers, directors, writers, editors and directors of photography combined in 2014-15. The report found that when compared to figures from recent years, “these percentages reveal that women’s forward progress in television has stalled. There is a perception gap between how people think women are faring in television, both on screen and behind the scenes, and their actual employment. We are no longer experiencing the incremental growth we saw in the late 1990s and 2000s.”
Among the broadcast networks, the report found that shows airing on ABC featured the highest percentage of female characters (45%), followed by the CW (43%), NBC and Fox (40%) and CBS (39%).
Reality shows, meanwhile, are more likely to feature female characters than any other genre. They comprised 47% of characters on reality shows, compared to 41% on situation comedies and 40% on dramas.
Ageism continues to plague actresses, as it has throughout the history of television. According to the report, female characters continue to be portrayed as younger than their male counterparts. The majority of female characters were in their 20s and 30s (60%), while the majority of male characters were in their 30s and 40s (55%).
Making matters worse, the female characters experience a “precipitous decline” in numbers from their 30s to their 40s. According to the report, 31% of female characters were in their 30s, but only 18% were in their 40s. Male characters also experience a decline, but less dramatic – from 30% to 25%.
More than 15% of the U.S. population is over 65, but you wouldn’t know it from watching TV. According to the report, only 2% of female and 4% of male characters were in their 60s or above.
The report also found that 77% of female characters were white, 15% were African-American, 3% were Latina, 4% were Asian, and 1% were of some other race or ethnicity.
On the broadcast networks, women fared best as producers, where they made up 38% of the workforce, although this was down 5% from the previous year, but up 9% since 1997-98. Women accounted for 26% of executive producers – a 3% increase from last year and a 7% increase since 1997-98. Women also accounted for 26% of writers, up 1% from 2013-14 and 6% from 1997-98. Women accounted for 21% of editors – up 4% from 2013-14 and 6% increase since 1997-98. Females accounted for 14% of directors, up 1% from the previous year and a 6% from 1997-98.