An (Un)Surprising Thing Happens When Women Run TV Shows

When a woman is calling the shots on a TV show, she does one thing differently than a man would: She hires more women.

According to a new study by Martha Lauzen of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, primetime television programs with at least one woman creator or executive producer showcased more female characters and hired larger percentages of female directors, writers and editors than shows run solely by men.

The study examined data collected over 18 years, documenting changes in women’s representation both on-screen and off in primetime television since the late 1990s. In their analysis, researchers discovered that women accounted for half of all writers, 23 percent of directors and 36 percent of editors on programs with at least one woman creator. On programs with no women creators, however, women comprised only 15 percent of writers, 10 percent of directors and 14 percent of editors.

Despite the findings, progress for women in television remains static. Today, women make up only 23 percent of creators, a 3 percentage point jump from last year, but a mere 5 percentage increase from nearly two decades ago. The percentage of women executive producers (26 percent), directors (14 percent), writers (26 percent) and editors (21 percent) have barely budged since the study began, all experiencing an increase of 5 percent or less since 2014 and a gain of 7 percent or less since the 1997-98 season. Moreover, nearly half of the shows studied employed four or fewer women in the behind-the-scenes roles considered. Not surprisingly, only 4 percent of programs employed four men or fewer.

“There is a perception gap between how people think women are faring in television, both on screen and behind the scenes, and their actual employment,” said Lauzen. “We are no longer experiencing the incremental growth we saw in the late 1990s and 2000s.”

However, she added, “The findings suggest that creators and executive producers play an instrumental role in shifting the gender dynamics for both on-screen characters and other individuals working in powerful behind-the-scenes.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock



Kitty Lindsay is a Ms. blogger and works at the Feminist Majority Foundation. She is also creator and host of Feminist Crush, a weekly podcast featuring conversations with feminist artists and activists. Follow her on Twitter!