Women face barriers in production sector: study

Taking lessons from global success stories, a CMPA study offers six steps to help fix the imbalance.
January 31, 2017

Women working in Canada’s screen-based industries report facing gender-specific obstacles to their career advancement, including pay inequity and lack of recognition.

That’s according to a new study released by the Canadian Media Producers Association.

“Women and Leadership: A Study of Gender Parity and Diversity in Canada’s Screen Industries” surveyed 561 industry members, with 87% of women surveyed responding they feel they face career limitations due to their gender.

Pay inequity was identified as the biggest challenge, with 233 respondents saying it was a major hurdle. Not being recognized or rewarded for performance (208) and difficulty financing larger projects, budgets (199) were also considered significant challenges facing women in the industry. More than 20% of survey respondents self-identified as members of a minority group. These respondents pointed to greater obstacles to their career advancement, with the most pressing challenge being gaining access to advancement opportunities, followed by pay inequity.

One consequence of these challenges: There are far fewer women than men in key creative and decision-making roles in Canada. One study referenced found that in the past 10 years women in English Canada have not achieved greater than 17% representation in the role of director of films, TV or web series. According to another study, between 2009 and 2014 women directors in Quebec received just 10% of Telefilm’s feature film production funds.

In addition to surveying Canadian industry members, the report analyzed gender parity initiatives in countries around the world, interviewed heads of international agencies and funding bodies, examined global research studies, and conducted interviews with more than 30 senior women stakeholders in Canada.

Participants in the CMPA report identified top-down action as one key to achieving gender parity. It gives the example of U.S. network FX, which improved the number of directors who were female or people of color to 51% today from 12% in 2015, after its CEO John Landgraf told showrunners hiring diverse directors was a priority.

More than any other, allocating 50% of public funds to female-led projects was identified as the solution to gender imbalance that could have the most positive impact (44% of respondents identified it as their top choice). While the Swedish Film Institute did not set a quota, its CEO, Anna Serner (pictured), set a target to achieve gender parity for directors, writers and producers in its funded films by 2016. The Swedish funding body reached that goal after training film commissioners on gender equality objectives, creating a website to highlight the talent of local women directors, and creating a mentorship program to help them progress beyond their first film to make a second or third. The Institute has now launched a new action plan for 2020, which aims to see women in key roles in larger budget productions and increase their visibility, among other things.

Ultimately, the report identified six components necessary for a comprehensive strategy to achieving gender parity.

1) Increased disclosure of information on gender and diversity.”While the Privacy Act can create challenges for data collection, there are ways of working within the parameters of the Act and provide transparent reporting to the industry and use of the information for management decision-making and planning purposes,” the report states.

2)Financial incentives. Respondents offered two major suggestions: A 50/50 allocation of public funds between male-led and female-led projects or incentives for producers and broadcasters for supporting female-led projects.

3) Conscious inclusion initiatives. These are often initiated from the top down, such as the broadcasters and producers who met the 2xMore challenge.

4) Increased skills training. Financial literacy programs for women entrepreneurs and early education and retention initiatives for girls and women in the science and technology fields were identified as priorities.

5) Confront the issue of portrayal on screen. By improving the visibility and manner in which women are portrayed on screen, the industry can help battle social inequality and combat negative stereotypes, the report states.

6) Diversity within gender. Respondents who identified as members of a minority or under-represented group face greater challenges in advancing past middle management than do white women. The report states there is an “urgent need to support the voices of diverse women.”

Funding for this study was provided by Ontario Media Development Corporation, the National Film Board, the SODEC, Creative BC, Telefilm Canada, the Canada Media Fund, RBC, and the CMPA.

Read the full report here.

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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.