Study: Women, Ethnic Minority Directors Continue to Be Overlooked in TV

The hiring of minority first-time TV helmers remains flat year-to-year, and the hiring of women is only slightly up.

Television has some major work to do in terms of hiring women and minority directors.

According to a study conducted by the Directors Guild of America, the gender and ethnic diversity of first-time helmers in episodic television doesn't seem to be improving much.

The report — released Wednesday and which precedes the DGA’s annual TV director diversity report covering the 2015-16 season due out later this summer — found that of the 153 directors who had never before worked in episodic television and were hired this past season, 15 percent were ethnic minorities and 23 percent were women. The hiring of minority first-time TV directors has remained stagnant year-to-year for the past seven seasons. And while there was a slight upward trend in the hiring of women, that number has fluctuated within the same range since 2012. In the last three years alone, it has fallen from 23 percent to 16 percent — only to rise back up this year.

Courtesy DGA

“To change the hiring pool, you have to change the pipeline. Year after year when we put out our TV director diversity report, the media and public are stunned that the numbers remain virtually the same,” said Bethany Rooney, co-chair of the DGA diversity task force. “But how can it change when employers hand out so many first-time director assignments as perks? If they were serious about inclusion, they would commit to do two simple things: First, look around and see that there’s already a sizable group of experienced women and minority directors ready to work and poised for success — and they would hire them. And second, they would more carefully consider these first-time directing jobs, and develop merit-based criteria for them — with an eye toward director career development. In the end, it’s all about who is a good director.” 

Courtesy DGA

In an effort to examine whether new entrants were continuing to get directing jobs in TV, the study also followed the career trajectories of first-time directors hired in the 2009-10 to 2013-14 seasons — tracking whether they were subsequently hired for additional directing jobs through the 2015-16 season [see figure 1, below]. Twenty-six percent of the group were categorized as “experienced directors,” meaning that they were already directors in other categories (feature films, commercials, online, etc.), while the majority — 66 percent — of the group were categorized as “affiliated” hires, meaning they were individuals already affiliated with the series for which they were hired (as actors, crew, editors, producers, writers, etc.).

The data revealed that not only were the experienced helmers more likely to develop TV directing careers, they were more diverse. Additionally, women and ethnic minorities in this category were far more successful than their affiliated counterparts with 96 percent of women (24 out of 25) and 56 percent of ethnic minorities going on to direct on other series, compared with just 44 percent of women and 34 percent of ethnic minorities in the affiliated group.

Courtesy DGA

“Employers should be thinking about their role in shaping and developing the talent pool,” added DGA diversity task force co-chair Todd Holland. “After all, it’s the Platinum Age of television. The profile of the television director is rising as series rely more on stylistic and visual choices in storytelling, and audiences demand greater inclusion — on both sides of the camera.”