Broadcast TV Still Hires Fewer Women, Features Fewer Major Female Characters

Neither medium is doing that well at hiring women, to be honest.

Holly Taylor in NBC’s Manifest. Peter Kramer/NBC

In 2020-21, women comprised 52% of major characters on streaming programs but 45% on broadcast network programs, according to the latest Boxed In report released today by Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. Programs on streaming services also had substantially higher percentages of women working as creators, directors, and editors than broadcast programs.

Behind the scenes, women accounted for 30% of creators, 31% of directors, and 24% of editors on streaming programs but 22% of creators, 19% of directors, and 15% of editors on broadcast network programs. As a reminder, American broadcast networks are comprised of NBC, ABC, Fox, CBS and The CW.

“Streamers get a lot of credit for offering more progressive programming, and that reputation is, in part, well deserved.  Their programs feature more female characters in major roles and have much higher percentages of women working as creators, directors, and editors than broadcast programs,” according to Lauzen. “However, females accounted for 45% of all speaking characters on original programs appearing on streaming services and 45% on broadcast networks. It’s frustrating to see that women’s representation on broadcast network programs has moved only a few percentage points over the last 15 years.”

Across both mediums, non-white representation is still minimal. While broadcast network programs featured slightly higher percentages of Black female (23%) and Latina (8%) characters in speaking roles than programs on streaming services (20% and 6%, respectively), streaming programs included a slightly higher percentage of Asian female characters than those on the broadcast networks (11% vs. 9%).

The study also found that programs with at least one woman creator featured more female characters in speaking and major roles than programs with exclusively male creators. In addition, programs with women creators employed higher percentages of women as directors, writers, and editors. For example, on programs with at least one woman creator, females comprised 53% of major characters.  On programs with exclusively male creators, females accounted for 46% of major characters. For example, FX on Hulu’s Y: The Last Man, which sees Eliza Clark serve as showrunner, writer, and executive producer, will employ female directors for every episode of Season 1.

“Increasing the numbers of women creators is important because they fulfill a gatekeeping role for female characters on screen and women working behind the scenes,” Lauzen noted. “Women accounted for 52% of writers on shows with women creators but just 23% on shows with exclusively male creators.”

Boxed In summarizes the findings of a content analysis of characters and behind-the-scenes credits on dramas, comedies, and reality programs. In 2020-21, the study tracked 3,429 characters and 4,434 behind-the-scenes credits. Over the last 24 years, from 1997-98 to 2020-21, the study has monitored over 50,000 characters and more than 63,000 behind-the-scenes credits. Broadcast TV Still Hires Fewer Women, Features Fewer Major Female Characters