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Gender inequality and screenwriters

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Equality Writes campaign, WGGB, report, Gender Inequality and Screenwriters, women TV writers, women film writers, 53 per cent ‘suggested they had seen evidence of discrimination over the course of their careers’.

Only 16 per cent of working film writers in the UK are female, and 14 per cent of prime-time TV is female-written, according to a new, independent report commissioned by the writers’ union WGGB.

The report, ‘Gender Inequality and Screenwriters’, covers ten years and reveals that the number of TV shows and films written by women in the UK flatlined during that period, with no consistent improvement in gender representation.

Other findings in the report, which was funded by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) and authored by Alexis Kreager, with Stephen Follows, include:

The percentage of television episodes written predominantly by women over 10 years is just 28 per cent.

This drops to 14 per cent for prime-time, 11 per cent for comedy and 9 per cent 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 over 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; women-written films generate high gross revenues – and garner plaudits from critics.

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 per cent of cast credits on UK feature films went to women during the period covered by the research.

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

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.

And 53 per cent 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.

The WGGB has now 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.

Equality Writes is calling for programme-level equality monitoring data to be released, and for public funders to pledge a 50/50 split between male and female-written films by 2020.

It also wants equality of opportunity for all under-represented groups, for example BAME writers, LGBT+ writers, writers with disabilities and working-class writers. The release of equality data is therefore essential, so the campaign can be broadened out and ensure that writing is a profession which is fair, equal and free from discrimination.

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.”

And 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.”

To visit the campaign website click here; you can watch the campaign video and add your name to show your support of the campaign.

And The Writers’ Guild of America East (WGAE), WGGB and BECTU joined forces earlier this month outside ITV’s shareholders’ meeting, to highlight cases of discrimination and unequal pay among the broadcaster’s employees in the US.

ITV employees in the US have voted to be represented by the WGAE, but ITV has consistently ignored calls to negotiate with union reps and to address workers’ problems.

Union staff and reps leafleted shareholders attending the meeting, which was held in London’s Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, and asked them to interrogate the broadcaster over a number of issues.

General Secretary Ellie Peers said: “Unions stood side by side outside the ITV AGM in a bid to highlight to ITV shareholders the travesty currently going on with ITV PLC with non-scripted in the US.

“Even though the WGAE has a recognition agreement, ITV PLC has not sat down with the union and negotiated a contract that will protect workers.

“It is simply not talking to the union in any meaningful way. So the discriminatory practices affecting women and people of colour cannot be addressed.”

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