Women underrepresented in Canadian TV production roles

A lot of time, effort and public money may be going into filming some well-known, live-action television series in Canada, but a new report suggests production is still missing one key element: women.

Report authors seek discussion at upcoming industry events

After looking at 21 television shows, including Little Mosque on the Prairie, the report's authors suggest that women are underrepresented in key creative and content-creating roles in the Canadian television production industry. (Little Mosque Productions/WestWind Pictures/Canadian Press)

A lot of time, effort and public money may be going into filming some well-known, live-action television series in Canada, but a new report suggests production is still missing one key element: women.

Women in View, a Toronto-based non-profit group dedicated to revitalizing the media industry by strengthening gender and cultural diversity, is releasing a report today concluding females are significantly underrepresented in key creative and content-creating roles.

The group studied 21 television series, including Being Erica, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Rookie Blue, The Borgias, Republic of Doyle, Murdoch Mysteries, Flashpoint, The Listener, Lost Girl, and Hiccups.

"The purpose of this is to get a discussion going in the industry and in the Canadian population," said Rina Fraticelli, executive director of Women in View.

"Does this matter? Why does this matter? What can we do about it?"

Lacking female directors, cinematographers, writers

The report found that only 16 per cent of directors were female when it came to the 272 episodes shot in 2010 and 2011, and 11 of the series did not employ a single female director on any of their episodes.

Absent, too, were female cinematographers: none were employed in any of the series, and women represented only 36 per cent of the screenwriters. No women from any of the country's minority groups were employed as directors, either.

The report also looked at ethnicity, as well, and found 13 of the series employed no First Nations or members of the country's minority groups as writers or directors.

The report said the Canadian Media Fund has invested almost $100 million of public money into the 21 series. The report did not look at documentary, lifestyle or children's programs, sports or news.

Fraticelli said it took her organization and freelancers about eight months to research and write the report based on data from the Canadian Media Fund and confirm its findings with union officials.

She said she expects two upcoming forums in Toronto and Banff will help answer questions about the causes of the imbalances causes, although she said she has a few ideas of her own.

She attributes the imbalance on such factors as old habits and the increased financial pressure the industry is under just when there's significant digital renewal.

"It's not a time when people are encouraged to take chances," she said. "One of the Catch 22s is innovation is not a priority right now, although everybody says it's the most important thing. Being innovative means taking risks and doing things differently."

She said when money is tight, innovation and risk taking are the last thing people want to do.

"It's this weird self-fulfilling prophecy," she said.

Fear of taking chances

Fraticelli said the industry also makes decisions based on efficiency and expediency.

"You want to hire the person that you hired before or who's most like the one you hired before because you don't want to take a chance that they're not going to come through because you rarely get second chances."

Peg Campbell, an associate professor at Vancouver's Emily Carr University of Art and Design, said she thinks women are being cut out partly because of systemic sexism but also because of what people choose to watch and fund, which is based on what they were raised as children and youth to view.

She said for people to be able to think there can be equality, they need to be able to see equality.

"It starts right away when people are watching a lot of the productions on television at a very young age," she said.

The industry is also not friendly to women who are primary caregivers to children, and its structure makes it impossible even for men who want normal family lives.

Campbell said many women leave the industry in their late 30s so they can have a better quality of life and raise families.

"You have to insist that there's equal representation, and you do that through quotas and levies, and you just say: 'OK. This has got to be done,"' she said.

For example, in Sweden, legislation ensures no more than between 40 and 60 per cent of one gender has the funding, and Campbell said she'd like to see a similar law in Canada.

"When you have those quotas, then things start to change because you create opportunity and people rise to it. It doesn't affect quality."

Women in View now plans to write annual reports on the issue, saying Canadians have not had consistent year-after-year data to track employment patterns.