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 the annual “Boxed In” report written by Dr. Martha Lauzen, the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, female executives and producers play an instrumental role in shifting the gender dynamics for on-screen characters and for behind the scene roles. Dr. Lauzen has conducted an extensive amount of research on women working in film and TV industries, authoring annual studies including “Boxed In” and “The Celluloid Ceiling.” She has also written multiple articles examining the representation of women by the media and the patterns of employment for women in the film and TV industries.
The annual “Boxed In” Report, which is in its 18th year, examines one randomly chosen episode from every cable, Netflix, and broadcast series that is aired each year. During the 2014-2015 year, the report found distinct clear correlation between shows with at least one female creator or exec producer and the level of female representation throughout the show’s production, from on-screen actors to editors.
Women make up roughly 43% of major on-screen characters of broadcast series that have at least on female executive producer, while series with no female executive producers only have 37% of their major characters as women. The study suggests that female editors are twice as likely to find jobs on a network series that employs at least one female creator. Broadcast programs with at least one female executive producer had a writing team that was compromise of 50% women, while programs with no female executive producers only had 15% of their writers as females.
The findings of this study stand in deep contrast to the mainstream cultural perception that women are now climbing the career ladder in television and film faster than ever before. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a steep growth for women’s employment in these industries, but currently, that growth rate has stalled. The perception gap between the public’s belief of how women are faring in these industries and the reality of the current situation has been gradually widening.
The disproportionate amount of females to males in leadership positions in the TV and film industries has helped spur the TV/film diversity gap or “the epidemic of invisibility.” With significantly fewer women writing and directing the plotline of TV shows and films, female characters are making up under one-third of characters with speaking roles. Women and girls are more likely to be presented as highly sexualized sidekick or background characters rather than to be presented as significant roles on TV or in films.
In order to ensure that more females are being significantly and actively portrayed in TV programs and films, society must support and help pave the way for the rise of female showrunners.
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