Women Working in the Media

Since the 1960s, feminists have argued that "it matters who makes it." When it comes to the mass media, "who makes it" continues to be men.

Women working in the media have made some inroads: a 2019 study found that women make up 41.7% of US newsrooms.[1] Additionally, studies conducted by the International Women’s Media Foundation of Canadian News Companies found that women made up 45.5% of senior level positions in journalism. This number, however, drops quite drastically to when it comes to women in CEO and top-level management positions, with only 39.4% in Canada, showing that women are hitting a “glass ceiling.” Even though women make up 58% of junior level writers, as they become more senior in their job this number falls, showing how top-level employment is a male dominated tier.[2] This glass ceiling is found internationally, as well – only 23% of media outlets in the UK, US, Brazil, Japan and Germany have a female editor-in-chief.[3]

Even fewer women participate in entertainment media. In 2022, women accounted for just 22% of the creative talent behind the hundred highest grossing Hollywood pictures—11% of directors, 19% of writers, 31% of producers, 21% of editors and 7% of cinematographers.[4] In the youth-focused animation industry, women make up 13% of directors in TV and just 3% in film.[5] While the share of key production roles (writing, directing and cinematography) held by women in Canadian TV almost tripled between 2014 and 2017, that still only represented a rise from 11 to 28 percent.[6] Moreover, when women do get to direct films, they are much more likely to only make one[7] – perhaps because a woman’s gender is more likely to be blamed for a film’s failure than a man’s.[8]

A 2020 study suggested some positive trends: “at early tenures promotion rates for women exceed those for men” and “HR respondents [in the media industry said] their companies were committed to achieving greater gender parity…93% said it was a priority within the organization.” While women make up 49% of the total workforce in the media and entertainment industry, though, just like in journalism they remain concentrated in entry-level positions.[9]

Whether or not women participate behind the scenes has ripple effects that can be seen onscreen. When at least one writer on a film is a woman, the number of female characters rises from 30 to 40 percent. On TV – perhaps because of the more collaborative “writers’ room” approach taken in TV writing – the presence of women in the writing staff has a much smaller effect, raising the number of female characters from 39 to 43 percent.[10] It’s no coincidence that female showrunners such as Quinta Brunson, Rebecca Sugar and Noelle Stevenson have been responsible for shows that have widened the range of female roles and broken ground in portraying same-sex relationships in children’s TV.

“Male directors a lot of times depict women in their films simply as love interests that only serve the purpose of helping the male hero…but when women get a chance to direct a lot of times you see more balanced depictions of male/female relationships.”[11]

Women in tech

While there have been several high-profile female executives in the digital tech industry, the last few years have seen an exodus of women from these positions. From Marissa Mayer leaving Yahoo in 2017 to Susan Wojcicki stepping down as CEO of YouTube in 2023, many high-profile women have recently left their positions in tech - and in each case been replaced by men.[12] While each woman left her job under conditions specific to their situations, this exodus of female leaders in a time when tech companies are facing difficult market conditions raises the question of whether there are unique pressures faced by women in leadership roles.

The pay gap

Another issue women face in their workplace is the gendered pay gap. In 2018, Canadian women aged 25 to 54 earned an average of 13.3 percent less than men, or $0.87 for every dollar.[13] While the Canadian data isn’t divided by sectors of the economy, American research has found that the wage gap is especially large in the media industry.[14]

[1] Women’s Media Center (2019) The Status of women in the U.S. Media 2019. Retrieved from https://tools.womensmediacenter.com/page/-/WMCStatusofWomeninUSMedia2019.pdf

[2] Azrak, L. (2018) Women journalists and the glass ceiling. The Canadian Journalism Project. Retrieved from https://j-source.ca/article/women-journalists-and-the-glass-ceiling/

[3] Nilsoon, P. (2020) women struggle to reach the top in global news outlets. Financial Times. Retrieved from https://www.ft.com/content/e936c42e-5fba-11ea-8033-fa40a0d65a98

[4] Lauzen, Martha (2022) The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on Top Grossing U.S. Films in 2022.

[5] Smith, Dr. Stacy L. et al. (2019) Increasing Inclusion in Animation: Investigating Opportunities, Challenges and the Classroom to the C-Suite Pipeline. (Rep.) USC Annenberg/Women in Animation

[6] Friend, David. “Women make strides in TV film production, but some are being left behind.” Canadian Press, May 15 2019.

[7] Sun, Rebecca. “Study Finds 80 Percent of Female Directors Made Only One Movie in 10 Years.” The Hollywood Reporter, February 1 2017.

[8] Mendelson, Scott. “The Box Office Failure of Olivia Wilde’s ‘Booksmart’ is a Sadly Predictable Tragedy.” Forbes, May 27 2019. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2019/05/27/booksmart-olivia-wilde-box-office-netflix-ghostbusters-avengers-aladdin-netflix-disney-fox/#6de6df86249c

[9] Beard, L et al (2020). Shattering the glass screen. McKinsey and Company. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/technology-media-and-telecommunications/our-insights/shattering-the-glass-screen#

[10] The Writers’ Union (2018). Gender Inequality and Screenwriters. Retrieved from https://writersguild.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/WGGB-Gender-Inequality-and-Screenwriters-Report.pdf

[11] Nath, I (2017) A director’s take on why we need more women behind the camera. Flare. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20220703212035/https://www.flare.com/tv-movies/wonder-woman-female-director/

[12] Thorbecke, C. (2023) A generation of high-profile women tech leaders have stepped aside. What's next? CTV News. https://www.ctvnews.ca/business/a-generation-of-high-profile-women-tech-leaders-have-stepped-aside-what-s-next-1.6288076

[13] Pelletier, Rachelle and Martha Patterson. The Gender Wage Gap in Canada: 1998 to 2018. Statistics Canada, October 11 2019. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-004-m/75-004-m2019004-eng.htm

[14] Chamberlain, Andrew, Daniel Zhao and Amanda Stansell. (2019) (Rep.) Progress on the Gender Pay Gap: 2019. Retrieved from <https://www.glassdoor.com/research/gender-pay-gap-2019/>