Just 28 percent of British television episodes over the last ten years were predominantly female-written, according to a new report backed by the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB).
The number drops down to just 14 percent when it comes to prime-time drama, the report adds, also noting that just 16 percent of all working screenwriters in film in the U.K. are female. The report, Gender Inequality and Screenwriters, was commissioned by WGGB and funded by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS). It observes that there has been no significant improvement in female underrepresentation in TV and film writers over the last decade.
Other key findings include that only 30 percent of all writers credited on at least one British TV episode between 2001 and 2016 were female, and the percentage of television programs with a predominantly female writing staff is just 18 percent. There are few differences between the major broadcasters, the report notes: between 63 percent and 66 percent of all episodes for BBC, ITV and Channel 4 were predominantly male-written. A greater percentage of writers on episodes on both Channel 5 and S4C are female.
“The report demonstrates that unconscious bias among hirers, lack of formal or open hiring systems, inadequate equality data collection and ineffective regulatory systems are all playing a part,” WGGB says. “Of over 200 working writers polled, the report revealed that only 5 percent agreed that ‘the way writers are hired, and scripts are commissioned, is fair and free from discrimination’ and the majority of respondents suggested that they had seen evidence of discrimination over the course of their careers.”
Female writers are often pigeonholed by genre and face obstacles in moving from continuing drama series or children’s television to prime-time drama, comedy or light entertainment. This despite the fact that several prime-time dramas and comedies written by female writers over the last few years have been commercial and critical successes, among them Victoria (Daisy Goodwin), Call the Midwife (Heidi Thomas), Happy Valley (Sally Wainwright), Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Catastrophe (Sharon Horgan).
Olivia Hetreed, WGGB’s president and BAFTA-nominated writer, 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. 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 U.K. filmmaking. 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.”
Screenwriter Kay Mellor added, “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.”
WGGB Chair Gail Renard said: “News flash! Women writers appear to have gone missing. 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 has launched the Equality Writes campaign, calling for immediate action to reverse this trend. The campaign is supported by Sandi Toksvig, Jack Thorne, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Gaby Chiappe, Lucy Kirkwood and Katherine Ryan, among others. The campaign’s first steps are to push for the TV equality monitoring data gathered by Project Diamond to be released and for public funders to pledge a fifty-fifty split between male- and female-written films by 2020.