Film Forward

This Organization Is Pushing For More Women In The TV Industry — And It's Working

"The key is to get the women of Hollywood talking and supporting one another."

When it comes to working in the entertainment business, getting your foot in the door can be challenging — especially for women. That's where WeForShe comes in. The nonprofit organization "strives to find practical ways to bring about a gender-balanced landscape in television," and its programs for female writers and directors have already made an impact on the industry.

It's no secret that fewer women are employed behind the camera than men, in both film and television. A recent report from the Directors Guild of America looked at the 2016-2017 season and found that the number of first-time female television directors had nearly tripled from 2009-2010, but there's still more work to be done. The Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film at San Diego University, for example, found that women comprised only 33 percent of writers and 17 percent of directors on broadcast, cable, and streaming programs.

WeForShe seeks to change this, by giving exposure to talented female writers and directors who are waiting for their big breaks. The annual WriteHer List, first published in 2015, shines a light on unproduced television scripts by women, as nominated by industry professionals. (This year's nominations close on November 22.) The DirectHer program, meanwhile, partners established television directors with emerging talent to guarantee work for them in the industry.

"Statistically, we know that having just one female creator on a television show dramatically increases the amount of women both in front of and behind the camera, so we feel that promoting these writers and creators of all levels has a trickle-down effect of creating more jobs and opportunities for women in television across the board," WeForShe founding members Claudia Maittlen-Harris and Katy McCaffrey told A Plus via email. "We've also found that the awareness and promotion of these unproduced pilots has garnered these writers more attention for other projects they are working on."

They shared that WeForShe's programs have so far promoted the work of approximately 75 honorees, many of whom have seen major career changes from their inclusion. A number of the writers featured on the WriteHer List, for instance, "have sold their pilots to networks, have procured or upgraded their representation, have entered into staffing and/or development deals," while 8 out of 10 participants in the DirectHer program have directed their first television episodes.

While advocating for women behind-the-scenes, the organization also recognizes the importance of better onscreen representation, which is why the scripts nominated for the WriteHer List must feature "strong female characters," in addition to at least one female writer. 

"Television creates potent images and its impact is global. Statistics show that female roles on television have a dramatic influence on women and young girls," Maittlen-Harris and McCaffrey explained. "Malala Yousafzai stated that watching America Ferrera on Ugly Betty made her want to become a journalist. In recognizing the importance of images of women and their stories being told authentically, we made it a priority that nominated scripts must have strong female characters for consideration."

WeForShe also advocates for women in entertainment outside of the aforementioned programs, by promoting increased discussion and support among women in the industry.

"We work closely with other sister organizations to continue to talk about the issues and challenges women face not only in getting the jobs in Hollywood but once they have the jobs as well," Maittlen-Harris and McCaffrey told A Plus. "We provide a space online for all our participants to come together and share their triumphs and their challenges. We encourage free discussions here on a range of topics from technical questions about camera angles to pay scale for writer's rooms. The key is to get the women of Hollywood talking and supporting one another. No more secrets or feeling like you're on your own."

The organization is also co-sponsoring the Take Back the Workplace March this Saturday, November 12, in Los Angeles. The event is a protest against sexual harassment in the workplace, an issue that has been widely addressed in recent weeks, stemming from allegations against some of Hollywood's major players.

When asked how TV viewers can do their part to improve representation for women in the industry, Maittlen-Harris and McCaffrey had a few suggestions: "They can watch shows featuring a plethora of complex, interesting female characters. They can watch shows created, directed and written by women. They can use social media to promote such shows and also call out shows that continue to relegate women to one-dimensional, cardboard side characters, or have barely any women in them at all."

They also named other groups besides WeForShe that are deserving of support, including the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which focuses on children's media; Women in Film, which previously spoke to A Plus about the 52 Films By Women initiative; and the Athena List, an annual list of unproduced, female-led movie scripts.

To help WeForShe continue its powerful work for women in television, we suggest making a donation through the organization's website or follow it on Facebook and Twitter. Be on the lookout for the 2018 WeForShe list in January, and the new DirectHer members in the spring.

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

Cover image: 279photo Studio / Shutterstock.com

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