Why Shonda Rhimes Is Hollywood’s Exception: Women Landing Jobs in Primetime TV Is Still Uphill Battle

According to new study, women held just 27 percent of off-camera jobs at broadcast, cable and streaming networks for the 2014-14 season — no change from previous year

Having at least one woman in a position of power on a television show greatly impacted the number of other jobs available to women on the production, both on camera and behind the scenes, according to a new study by researchers at San Diego State University.

The annual “Boxed In” study, now in its 18th year, provides the most comprehensive historical record of women’s representation and employment in television.

In the 2014-15 TV season, the study found, shows which counted at least one woman as an executive producer saw a higher number of women in other jobs as well. On broadcast programs with no female executive producers, women accounted for 37 percent of major characters. On programs with at least one female executive producer, 43 percent of major characters were women.

The number is even more striking behind the scenes. On broadcast programs with no female executive producers, women accounted for 6 percent of writers. On programs with at least one female executive producer, 32 percent of writers were women.

“The findings suggest that creators and executive producers play an instrumental role in shifting the gender dynamics for both onscreen characters and other individuals working in powerful behind-the-scenes roles,” Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

In the 2014-15 television season, female characters comprised 42 percent of all speaking characters on broadcast television programs and 40 percent of all characters on broadcast, cable, and Netflix shows, the study found.

Behind the scenes, though, women accounted for 27 percent of creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography working on broadcast programs and 25 percent of those working in these key roles on broadcast, cable, and Netflix programs.

Despite the public attention given to prominent TV executive producers like Jennie Snyderman Urman (“Jane the Virgin”) and Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” “How to Get Away With Murder”), the study found that the growth of female representation both on camera and off has actually stalled in recent years.

In 2014-15, there was no change from the previous year in the percentage of women working as creators, directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and directors of photography — and women had shown an increase of just 6 percent since 1997-98.

“There is a perception gap between how people think women are faring in television, both on screen and behind the scenes, and their actual employment,” said Lauzen. “We are no longer experiencing the incremental growth we saw in the late 1990s and 2000s.”

In terms of onscreen representation, the study examines one randomly selected episode of every series.