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Documentary filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk. (Rachel Boekel photography)
Documentary filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk. (Rachel Boekel photography)

The script for women behind the camera is not a comedy, new studies show Add to ...

“I think that the people who order the shows and put the shows together, they need to see that it’s not just a bunch of women whining. It really is real. That’s what they need to see. It’s not that we all run off and have babies. It’s really real that women are not moving up in these male-dominated fields.”

Way up the TV food chain until recently was Kirstine Stewart, who left her position this spring as CBC’s executive vice-president, English services to head up Twitter Canada.

“I think we’ve had enough studies at this point, and it’s time to start really thinking about some sort of action plan,” says Stewart, who argues diversity should be a factor in decision-making. While she was at CBC, the network began asking independent producers to submit a diversity plan – looking at race and gender – as they were getting into production. It was a way, says Stewart, of getting the issue on the table.

“The problem is so systemic that it’s difficult to change with just one piece of procedure, but at least the opportunity to have a discussion around each of the roles and whether there was an opportunity to reach out to a diverse person in those roles becomes a topic of conversation when it’s something that the producer has to submit.”

Stewart says any discrimination she encountered was more subliminal than overt. But she believes women in high-profile jobs are subjected to a different sort of criticism.

“Women do get attacked more personally. ... They’re held up to a different kind of assessment than a man in the same role is, and that makes it difficult for some women. ... I don’t blame them, but some women opt out and say that’s not really what I need. And I don’t think it makes them unbrave for doing so; I think it just represents unfortunately a really bad situation.

“It’s a different form of bullying, to be honest,” she continues. “It is a form of bullying to be pointing at a woman and describing her differently than they would a male executive.”

Still, Stewart points to the CBC as a place where the gender balance at the decision-making level tips slightly toward the female.

One of those decision-makers is Sally Catto, executive director of commissioned and scripted programming.

“It’s a huge concern. There are not nearly enough women directing in Canada,” says Catto, who suggests the limited number of scripted programs at the CBC means fewer opportunities for new directors to get their shot.

“I think it is incumbent upon us as broadcasters who have those approval rights to really be pushing and pushing to allow new directors opportunities.”

In the United States, NBCUniversal executive Beth Roberts says the proliferation of cable networks and growing need for more programming should translate into more opportunities for women.

“The more available slots there are, the greater the likelihood that those slots will be filled by women,” says Roberts, executive vice-president of business operations, NBCUniversal, Cable Entertainment Group and COO, Universal Cable Productions.

Roberts is one of a number of high-ranking female executives who will be at Banff, along with Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, who will give the keynote address on Monday. Says Banff executive director Ferne Cohen: “The chair of our board is a woman, our keynote speaker is a woman, many of our moderators, industry experts, development executives are women. So I’m surrounded by experienced and high-powered industry women all the time.”

So if women are making it close to the top of the industry, what’s preventing them from taking on the power roles on-set – as directors, in particular?

In a recent U.S. study, people in the industry who were surveyed listed “gendered financial barriers” as the top factor barring female advancement in the film industry: The perceptions were that financiers are predominantly male; that female-driven content was not as commercially viable; and that women are less confident/trustworthy with large budget films. Male-dominated networks were also a prime concern. Only 16 per cent cited stereotyping on-set, and 14 per cent exclusionary hiring decisions. Twenty per cent mentioned family-work balance.

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