Women’s Representation in Prime-Time TV Reaches “Recent Historic High”


Females comprised 45 percent of major characters on broadcast network, cable and streaming programs in 2018-19, according to a new study, representing an increase of 5 percentage points from 2017-18 and marking a recent historic high.

Across platforms, the percentage of female characters in speaking roles increased from 40 percent in 2017-18 to 45 percent in 2018-19. This represents a recent historic high. Looking at it by platform, females comprised 44 percent of characters on broadcast programs, 45 percent of characters on cable programs and 45 percent of characters on streaming programs.

Overall, women accounted for 31 percent of individuals working in key behind-the-scenes positions. This represents a recent historic high, topping the previous high of 28 percent set in 2016-17. Women working as creators, directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors and directors of photography also reached historic highs on broadcast programs (31 percent) and cable programs (31 percent). Women accounted for 30 percent of behind-the-scenes individuals working on streaming programs, down 2 percentage points from 2016-17.

Overall, programs employed relatively low numbers of women behind the scenes—52 percent of programs employed five or fewer women in the behind-the-scenes roles considered, while 17 percent of programs employed five or fewer men.

Across platforms, high percentages of programs employed no women in the behind-the-scenes roles considered—96 percent of the programs considered had no women directors of photography, 79 percent had no women directors, 77 percent had no women editors and 77 percent had no women creators.

After years of stagnation, the employment of women working in key behind-the-scenes positions on broadcast network programs moved upward in 2018-19, increasing from 27 percent in 2017-18 to 31 percent in 2018-19. The report does caution that it is unclear whether 2018-19 marked the beginning of an upward trend in women’s behind-the-scenes employment or represented a single good year amid overall stagnation.

The percentage of women creators moved upward in 2018-19, after years of stagnation. In 2018-19, women accounted for 25 percent of creators, up from 22 percent in 2017-18. Again, it is unclear whether 2018-19 marks the start of a positive trend or is one-off.

The report comes from San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. For the last 22 years, Boxed In has tracked women’s representation in prime-time television. The study examines dramas, comedies and reality programs appearing on the broadcast networks, basic and premium cable channels, and streaming services.