A new study shows that prime-time television is still very much a boys club, but women are gaining ground in one key area
By now, we’ve almost become accustomed to the depressing figures about how few women are working in the film industry — and television is no different. In front of the camera and behind, the television industry is notoriously a boys’ club. But according to the 17th annual “Boxed In” study, conducted by San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, which analyzes how many women are working in primetime television and was released Tuesday, there are some key areas where women are on the rise.
Let’s start with the good news: Women producers are on the up in television as this year women accounted for 43% of all producers on network television shows, an increase of five percent over last year. It’s also a 14% increase since 1997-98 (the first year the “Boxed In” study was conducted). Also promisingly, women made up 13% of all directors this year, an increase of one percent from the previous year and an increase of five percent since 1997-98.
Unfortunately, the report wasn’t all positive or even mostly positive about the current state for women in primetime television. This year, the number of women in writing and executive producing positions had decreased from last year’s figures. What’s more, only 20% of creators were women, a decrease of four percent from last year.
Women working in front of the cameras also took a hit, as women only made up 42% of all speaking characters and 42% of major characters this year, marking a one percent decrease from last year.
Though the television roles off-screen are less glamorous than the ones on-screen, the study also found the two are linked. More specifically, the higher the number of women behind the cameras often corresponded with a higher number of women in front of the camera. According to the numbers, when a program had at least one woman writer on staff, “females accounted for 46% of all characters.” Yet the number of female characters dropped to 38% when there were no women writers on staff.
While the above numbers only take network television into account, “Boxed In” did also factor in the number of women working in cable and Netflix shows. Sadly, those numbers don’t exactly offer improvements. Looking at broadcast, cable and Netflix together, women made up 40% of producers, 26% of writers, 21% of executive producers, 19% of creators and 13% of directors. (Though once again, producers and directors marked a marginal increase over last year’s figures.)
With the commercial and critical success of women-led shows such as Orange is the New Black and Scandal and Girls, it might be hard to believe that now isn’t a pinnacle time for women in the industry. Yet, according to the figures and Dr. Martha Lauzen, the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, that’s simply not the case.
“For many years, women have experienced slow but incremental growth both as characters on screen and working in key positions behind the scenes,” Lauzen said in a statement. “However, that progress, small though it was, now appears to have stalled.”