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International Women's Day - why there is still much work to do

Progress has been made but we must acknowledge areas where substantial improvement is needed, says WFTV chair Liz Tucker

To mark International Women’s Day, Women in Film and TV (WFTV) is holding simultaneous events in Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds and London. It’s a chance for us to both reflect and celebrate the opportunities and rights that women living in the UK now have, that are unrecognisable from 1911 when the event was first commemorated.

In every area of society, women have made huge strides forward but there is far more work to be done. And, of course, in many parts of the world, women can only dream of having the rights enjoyed by those of us who live in democracies.

“There is much progress to be made for there remain large parts of our industry where women are underrepresented and lack a voice”

As UK chair of WFTV, I hope that one day we will have created a world where women have the same opportunities and rewards as men but large parts of our industry remain where women are underrepresented and lack a voice.

According to the most recent Celluloid Ceiling report, in 2020 women made up just 21% of all directors, writers, producers, editors, and cinematographers in the top 100 grossing films. And 2020’s Hollywood Diversity Report reported that 80% of studio executive positions and 82% of studio CEOs were male.

In the UK, while ITV’s Carolyn McCall, Channel 4’s Alex Mahon and Paramount’s Maria Kyriacou lead terrestrial broadcasters, women heading indies - particularly setting them up from scratch - remain very much in the minority.

Of course, there are hugely successful women such as Nutopia’s Jane Root and Sister’s Jane Featherstone, Elisabeth Murdoch and Stacey Snider but they are the exceptions.

A commissioner who had previously worked in production remarked to me it was a real shock when she moved into her new role and found herself in meeting after meeting with indies, headed by men.

Directing is another key area where women are clearly underrepresented and worryingly the situation may be getting worse. The 2018 Directors UK’s Report Who’s Calling the Shots found that the number of women directing episodes had actually gone down from 27% to 24% (despite women making up one third of the directing workforce) and that there had been a significant 10% drop in the number of women directing factual.

And the most recent survey by We Are Doc Women in 2021 reported women remain in lower paid roles, while men are three times as likely to be directors.

Both in drama and factual, there still seems to be a tendency for women to be producers rather than directors, to do the less glamorous legwork and set-up, with woman seen as the “safe pair of hands” while a male director gains the lion’s share of the acclaim.

Post-production is another area in which women are grossly underrepresented, yet roles in sound production, VT editing, vision mixing and grading are often well paid and secure jobs so should offer tremendous opportunities.

“Every major broadcaster and employer now talks about helping women juggle children and career, but I have yet to hear anyone talk about how men should cope with this challenge.”

In this article, I’ve highlighted just a few of the areas where we need to work much harder to improve opportunities for women, but there is one wider point that doesn’t seem to get discussed at all.

Childcare Every major broadcaster and employer now talks about helping women juggle children and career, but I have yet to hear anyone talk about how men should cope with this challenge.

Wrestling with the competing priorities of work and home is a consistent pressure for women, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the men who have even raised this as a concern. It’s deeply depressing that in 2022, employers still consider women as the primary caregivers. There is also little recognition that there are also male couples with children.

We know that when women start having children, that is often when their careers start to stall, so for those in heterosexual relationships, I think much more thought needs to be given to the responsibilities of both partners, not just the woman. That would not only even the domestic workload, it would also help men become more involved fathers. It may seem strange for the chair of a women’s organisation to raise this point, but a key part of developing equal opportunities will be helping both men and women take on an equal burden of domestic and childcare responsibilities.

So as we mark International Women’s Day in 2022, let’s recognise the substantial progress that has been made, while acknowledging there are still areas where improvement is needed, and join me in raising a glass this evening to celebrate the contributions of each and every woman working in the film and TV industry.

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