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.[i]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.[ii] 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.[iii]

Even fewer women participate in entertainment media. In 2019, women accounted for just 21% of the creative talent behind the highest grossing Hollywood pictures—13% of directors, 19% of writers, 27% of producers and % of cinematographers.[iv] In the youth-focused animation industry, women make up 13% of directors in TV and just 3% in film.[v] 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 per cent.[vi] Moreover, when women do get to direct films, they are much more likely to only make one[vii] – perhaps because a woman’s gender is more likely to be blamed for a film’s failure than a man’s.[viii]

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 in entry-level positions.[ix]

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 per cent. 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 per cent.[x] It’s no coincidence that female showrunners such as Lauren Faust, 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.”[xi]

The Pay Gap

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


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

[ii] 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/

[iii] 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

[iv] Lauzen, Martha (2020) The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 250 Films of 2019.

[v] 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

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

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

[viii] 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

[ix] 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#

[x] 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

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

[xii] 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

[xiii] 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/>