88 Percent of Showrunners Are White, WGA West Finds

Writers Guild of America Building - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of WGA West

The Writers Guild of America West has released its first-ever inclusion report card.

In an effort to promote transparency and accountability with respect to the industry's diversity problem, the Writers Guild of America West has released its first ever Inclusion Report Card.

Based on WGAW employment data on the 2,895 jobs during the 2017-18 TV staffing season, the guild found that "systemic discrimination against writers from historically underrepresented groups remains pervasive in the hiring of television writers." Only 36 percent of staffed writers are women, quite short of gender parity. And there are fewer people of color in writers rooms than in the U.S. population, 27 percent to 39 percent, respectively. And writers with disabilities comprise less than 1 percent of staffed writers, even though 56.7 million Americans (19 percent of the population) identify as having a disability.

The guild also examined race and gender by staffing level, finding that the business is still less about inclusion (empowering underrepresented individuals) and more about diversity (where most of the marginalized employees are pooled at the bottom of the pyramid). Whereas the staff writer level has perfect gender parity, the gap widens while moving up, with women representing just 17 percent of executive producers and 24 percent of showrunners. People of color are most commonly seen as staff writers (45 percent) and executive story editors (47 percent), but constitute only 12 percent of exec producers and showrunners.

Data on sexual orientation and gender identity, which is based on self-identification, was incomplete at publication time, but several LGBTQ+ writers told the report card authors (the WGAW's Inclusion and Equity Group) that they had been told by agents and executives that they "don't count as diverse." The guild strongly stressed that "LGBTQ+ writers are without question members of a historically underrepresented group … who still face hiring discrimination around the world and in the entertainment industry," and called on studios and agencies to clarify and make consistent their LGBTQ+ inclusion policies.

The report card also touched on ageism, noting that only high-level writers tend to be able to work past the age of 50, with "the near-total absence of staff writers over 50 … clear evidence of systemic age discrimination."

The report card authors also noted that discrimination is not simply solved by hiring, citing the Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity's recent study that revealed 64 percent of underrepresented writers have reported bias, discrimination and/or harassment on the job. Glen Mazzara and Shonda Rhimes co-chair the guild's inclusion and equity group, which also includes as members Doug Atchison, Leo Chu, Jennifer Crittenden, Eric Garcia, Terri Kopp, Aimee Lagos, LaToya Morgan, Margaret Nagle, Shireen Razack, Ari B. Rubin, Melissa Rosenberg, Allison Schroeder, David Slack and Ligiah Villalobos.

The report card comes as the guild and its members are organizing to find one another jobs during staffing season, as more than 7,000 writers have walked away from their agents after the expiration of the franchise agreement between the WGA and ATA and the two parties have failed to reach a new consensus. The guild's Find A Writer database allows showrunners, executives and others to search for writers by background (including specifically for scribes who are over 50, transgender, have disabilities or are foreign nationals) and experience level.