Gender equality

Women shut out of top screenwriting jobs for over 10 years

Only 16% of working film writers in the UK are female, and only 14% of prime-time TV is female-written, according to a new, independent report commissioned by WGGB and released today.

The report, Gender Inequality and Screenwriters, was funded by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) and authored by Alexis Kreager with Stephen Follows.

It spans a whole decade and reveals that TV shows and films written by women in the UK have flatlined during that period, with no consistent improvement in gender representation.

WGGB has today launched the Equality Writes campaign to tackle the problem, with the support of writers including Sandi Toksvig, Kay Mellor, Gwyneth Hughes, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Lucy Kirkwood, April De Angelis, Jack Thorne, JoJo Moyes, Gaby Chiappe and Katherine Ryan.

Sandi Toksvig said: “There is no shortage of talented women writers in the UK, and therefore no excuse that so few of them are getting commissions in film and TV. WGGB’s Equality Writes campaign is a vital one, and one that I – as a member – wholeheartedly support.”

Kay Mellor said: “No woman writer has got through without a struggle and it’s criminal that I can count on one hand how many women signature writers there are on TV right now. Sometimes it takes a collective to say ‘this is not fair’ and it’s not. It’s time things changed.”

Gwyneth Hughes said: “The results of the Writers’ Guild research make shocking reading. I hope we can move on to an honest and open debate about why this inequality still afflicts our industry.”

You can also see which MPs and organisations have pledged their support to the campaign here.

Other findings in the report include:

• The percentage of television episodes written predominantly by women over 10 years is just 28%. This drops to 14% for prime-time, 11% for comedy and 9% for light entertainment. Female TV writers are also being pigeonholed in genres like children’s and continuing drama series – the ‘soaps’.

• Women writers in film are also facing a glass ceiling. On average, budgets for male-written films are higher, and across the course of their careers female writers average fewer films than their male counterparts. Bigger budget genres such as fantasy, action, sci-fi and adventure have fewer female writers.

• Film is not, as popularly believed, driven by the motive to make profit. Despite women-written films generating high gross revenues and garnering plaudits from critics, women are still lagging behind.

• Gender inequality is not limited solely to writers – key creative roles in film productions for example are held predominantly by men. This is impacting on female representation on screen (only 32% of cast credits on UK feature films went to women during the period covered by the research).

• Bias amongst hirers, lack of formal or open hiring systems, inadequate equality data collection and ineffective regulatory systems are creating a self-sustaining loop of gender inequality.

• Systemic problems unique to both industries are also having an impact. The short-term and unregulated nature of film productions encourages gender inequality. In TV, negative practices are becoming codified over time.

• Both industries are hampered by the risky nature of their products – stellar hits are rare; many projects disappear without trace or fail to generate profits. This leads to limited accountability for decision-making, difficulty in recognising unfair or even discriminatory practice and an over-reliance on a vague notion of expertise. It also discourages innovation.

• 53% of respondents to a survey of WGGB members conducted by the authors of the report suggested they had seen evidence of discrimination over the course of their careers.

WGGB General Secretary Ellie Peers said:

“This new independent research confirms that women screenwriters are still facing a glass ceiling, which is preventing them from getting the top writing jobs. Films and TV shows written by women in the UK have flatlined over the past decade and remain at a shockingly low level.

“Women make up over half the UK population, yet in film and TV they are an under-represented group, with as little as 14% of prime-time programming – excluding the soaps – being written by women.

“We’ve been told it’s ‘getting better’, but if more women are being commissioned than before, then prove it, give us the facts and share your data. No more excuses. Let’s have an open and honest debate about how we can collectively bring about positive change for all under-represented groups of writers in film and television.”

WGGB Chair Gail Renard said:

“News flash! Women writers appear to have gone missing. Only 28% of television shows have been written by women over the past 10 years. Even fewer if the women writers are audacious enough to want to write something other than soaps or children’s telly. The statistics get even worse for prime-time drama (14%) and comedy (11%.) It’s not bad enough there’s a glass ceiling for women in television. Now it turns out there are glass walls as well.

“All we’re asking for is a meritocracy for all writers regardless of gender, race, disabilities or class. Let us into the meetings. Read our pitches. Work with us. We all have glorious stories to tell. Let us tell them.”

WGGB President Olivia Hetreed said:

“I have been asked about the dearth of female screenwriters in this country ever since my first feature film put me into that endangered species bracket. I and others were reassuring: ‘It’s just a matter of time. It’s getting better. It will work itself out.’

“But more than a decade later, this new research shows that the number of women writing films has flatlined at abjectly low levels (16% at best).

“Female-written films are more successful and more popular than average, but the new research explains why market forces don’t operate in the face of the risky financing and old-fashioned hiring practices of UK film-making. Faced with such clear evidence we expect that commissioners, especially public funders, will work much harder to give equal opportunities to women and other under-represented writers, who in turn will produce work reflecting all our hopes, fears and aspirations.”

WGGB’s Equality Writes campaign is calling for:

• Programme-level equality monitoring data to be released.

• For public funders to pledge a 50/50 split between male and female-written films by 2020.

As a trade union WGGB is concerned about discrimination against all under-represented groups, for example, BAME writers, LGBT+ writers, writers with disabilities and working-class writers. It is currently focussing on gender as this is the one area where sufficient data is publicly available to illustrate the issue. The union is demanding the release of equality data so it can tackle the issue for other groups too, and it is calling on industry to work alongside it to effect change.

Visit the campaign website, where you can watch the campaign video and add your name in support of the campaign.

Photo: Calhus