In what could mark a turning point in the television industry’s diversity efforts, a new DGA report has found that first-time women and minority TV directors saw record gains this year, with more than twice as many freshman minority directors and nearly twice as many first-time female directors being hired this season than last. The report, which covers all episodic TV series shot under DGA contracts, reveals that the number of first-time minority and women directors hit record highs this year, and set a record year-to-year single season increase.
Based on these new numbers, the DGA, which for decades has been pressing the industry to be more inclusive, finally has something to crow about.
“Finally, after years of our efforts to educate the industry, hold employers accountable through our contracts, and push them to do better, we’re seeing signs of meaningful improvement,” said DGA president Thomas Schlamme.
Peak TV and the explosion of new shows and delivery platforms has opened the door to many more first-time directors than in years past, and while the directing pie has dramatically expanded for all first-timers, women and minority directors are now getting a bigger slice of it.
In the 2016/17 season, an all-time high of 225 directors who had never before directed episodic television were hired by studios, networks and executive producers, representing a steep 42% increase in first-time TV directors over the previous season. This increase significantly outpaced the growth in the total volume of TV episodes and represented a 127% jump since the 2009/10 season, when the guild first started releasing hiring data on first-time TV directors.
The report, which excludes pilots, found that:
- Of the 225 first-timers hired this season, 56 – nearly one-in-four – were ethnic minorities, which was way up from the 2015/16 season, when only 24 (15%) – or less than one-in-seven – were hired.
- Of all the first-time directors hired this season, 73 (32.4%) were women, which was also way up from 38 (24%) the prior season.
- And of all first-time directors this season, 18 (8%) were female minorities – triple the number and more than twice the percentage from the prior year, when only six were female minorities (3.8%).
“The move toward inclusion – after years of glacial progress – suggests that qualified people who have previously been overlooked because of their race or gender are beginning to get recognition and opportunities commensurate with their talent,” the guild said in a statement.
“The fact is, it all starts with the pipeline,” Schlamme said. “The hiring decisions employers make today can have enormous impact on the composition of the pool in two years, five years, ten years’ time. Our research shows that when employers actually do the work of being inclusive, they find talented directors who overwhelmingly succeed in establishing longer-term careers.”
The percentage of males and male Caucasian first-timers were both down this year compared to last year, but because of the expansion of the pool of first-timers overall, their absolute numbers still grew to new heights. The guild found that:
- Of the first-timers hired this season, a record 161 (72%) were Caucasian, which was up from 133 hired last season, but down from the 84% of all first-timers hired last year.
- Employers hired a record 152 males (67.6% of all first-time hires in the 2016/17 season), which was up from 120 from the year before, but down as an overall percentage, when males got 76% of all first-time directing jobs.
- And the 108 male Caucasians first-timers hired this season (48%) was still up from the 102 hired last season, but was down from the 65% of all first-timers hired last year.
The guild has been reporting on diversity in hiring for more than two decades as part of its ongoing campaign to encourage inclusion – which also includes numerous member programs such as a recently launched TV director mentorship initiative. The guild says that by seeking to change the pipeline – the point of entry – it hopes to change “the imbalanced hiring pool over the long term.” The DGA began issuing its annual surveys of trends in first-time hires in 2010, and precedes the DGA’s upcoming annual diversity report on all episodic TV director hiring.
The guild is still not pleased, however, with the fact that nearly two-thirds of all first-time directors hired since the 2009/10 season were already affiliated with the series for which they were hired, either as actors, writers, producers, editors and other members of the crew, and that only 28% were what the guild calls “career-track directors” who were unaffiliated with the series but had previously directed in other categories, such as feature films, commercials and reality TV shows.
And while it is not uncommon for stars to be given an opportunity to direct an episode of their own shows, the DGA report makes a strong case that women and minority cast and crew members who are given directing “perks” are much less likely to direct again than are the outsiders with directing experience brought in to direct their first episodic show.
The guild’s data shows that over the last eight years, just 40% of series-affiliated directors went on to work as directors on other series, indicating a “breakage” rate of 60% who never made it from the pipeline to the general hiring pool. On the other hand, nearly three-quarters of career-track directors (71%) did go on to direct episodes on other series. The most successful career-track directors were women and minorities, with 97% of the first-time women directors (28 out of 29) and 85% of the minorities (28 out of 33) going on to direct on other series.
“Despite this strong record among career-track directors,” the guild said, “employers hired a record 125 series-affiliated individuals as first-time TV directors in the 2016/17 season – up from 106 the year prior.”
“The rapid growth in the proportion of episodes given to first-time TV directors is the result of some factors that are very positive, and others that require further monitoring,” Schlamme said. “On the one hand, we’re delighted to see the jump in first breaks for talented women and minority directors who are building long-term careers. This validates what we’ve advocated for years and demonstrates what’s possible when employers adopt more inclusive hiring practices. On the other hand, too many of those valued first-time jobs are still being reserved for individuals who work on a series in some other capacity – and as our statistics show, are much less likely to continue a career in directing. If the goal is to feed the pipeline with the directors of the future, it’s important that employers provide the first-time opportunities to those most likely to go on and become career directors.”