RSW ’14: Female network execs discuss battle for equality

Female network heads, programming execs, producers and agents assembled at a final, gender-focused Realscreen West panel told delegates that although gender equality has effectively been reached for female network executives, more work needs to be done for producers. (Pictured: Sharon Levy)
June 6, 2014

(Photo: Rahoul Ghose)

Female network heads, programming execs, producers and agents assembled at a final, gender-focused Realscreen West panel told delegates that although gender equality has effectively been reached for female network executives, more work needs to be done for producers.

Nicole Page, a senior development executive with Engel Entertainment, moderated the “Reality Check: Women in Unscripted” panel, which included Jenny Daly, president of T Group Productions; Pam Healey, GM of Shed Media U.S.; Sharon Levy (pictured above), EVP of original series for Spike TV; Allison Page, GM of HGTV, DIY Network and Great American Country; Marissa Ronca, SVP of development and original programming for TruTV; and Lori York, partner at alternative television packaging agent ICM.

HGTV’s Page said that as a network executive, all of her bosses are women, so any lack of female representation in the field is not part of her reality.

“I’m surrounded by strong women, and what I’ve experienced is incredible support and mentorship,” she told the audience.

Daly – whose prodco oversees shows such as Swamp Hunters and My Big Fat Greek Wedding – said it is crucial not to think along gender lines.

“Business is business,” said Daly. “I don’t think of it in gender terms. You can’t go at it from a sensitive place.”

However, despite contentment among women in top unscripted jobs, there was agreement that men and women occupy different gender roles at work. Women were expected to be nurturing and caring in their interpersonal interactions, particularly with talent, but when they were tough in business deals, they often received push-back.

“You should be who you are,” said Levy, emphasizing that having colleagues’ support is key. “But you hope that there are people there who bring you up.”

Meanwhile, a discussion of pay equality for women at networks and prodcos revealed that pay disparity was not such an issue among producers, but could be for network executives. Most panelists also felt that men had an easier time asking for raises.

As for representing women on their own networks and productions, there was some disagreement about taking responsibility for portrayals of women.

Moderator Page said that what is shown on television makes a great impact on how women are viewed, especially among younger viewers, while Levy argued that it is up to parents to raise kids “who aren’t going to fall for that.”

“You have to raise your kids to be smarter,” she said.

The exec said Spike TV, which attracts a large female audience, is careful about selecting strong women for their programming, but she would like to see more HGTV-type reality series where “there’s less women screaming.”

“We’ve got the Housewives, it’s done,” said Levy. “It’s just time for people to make different shows. What’s most important is originality.”

Finally, the panel revealed that an area which could be improved are maternity leave policies for female producers, who often have just weeks off before returning to work.

Levy said that when her Inkmasters showrunner got pregnant, she pushed the show’s air-date to allow time for the producer to have the baby and then return to the series.

“I didn’t want to lose her and the ratings, and because I pushed back the show she will stay with us forever,” said Levy. “I could bring someone new who will totally screw up my franchise, or I give her an extra four weeks.”

Page added that most women on the panel were in privileged positions because they were able to get help, so if they’re able to change policies to help others, they should.

“Until we’re able to give young, up-and-coming female producers time to chill out and have a baby, we are not breeding showrunners,” added Levy.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.