Lucy Brown, Associate Dean of Screen at London College of Communication, chaired the Westminster Insight Conference on Gender Equality in Television: Behind the Scenes On and Off the Screen.
In addition to her role as Associate Dean, Lucy is the founder and chair of Trailblazing Women On & Off Screen, teaches at institutions, and is regularly invited to international conferences and jury panels. She has a background in the TV industry and moved to academia in pursuit of making the future better for women.
Maha Khan, BA (Hons) Journalism student, attended the conference and reports back...
Lucy opened the conference by saying, "this is our opportunity for academia and industry to work together to break down the invisible barriers for women.”
The full-day conference consisted of a series of keynote speakers and panel discussions from key stakeholders across the sector from industry and academia. The topics of the day tackled issues of representation of women behind and on the screen, barriers to career progression, and regulation and solutions.
One of the biggest concerns was that, although change is needed and acknowledged, some sectors of TV figures of progress are stalling or in some cases reverting to previous levels of inequality.
The figures are alarming with, on average, only a quarter of television episodes directed and written by women which leads to the portrayal of women on screen being disproportionately lower than their male counterparts.
“Despite what we’ve been led to believe, women are not a minority.” – Vikki Cook
Vikki Cook, Ofcom’s Director of Standards and Audience Protection, kickstarted the keynote speeches by addressing the regulation body’s diversity and inclusion targets.
Cook stressed the need for broadcasters to ensure the workforce reflects the diversity of society because “despite what we’ve been led to believe, women are not a minority.” Her report found that women are underrepresented across all genres, but most significantly in senior and tech roles.
Vice-Chair and Chair of Directors UK, Anna Thompson and Darcia Martin, led a panel on equal representation of directors examining the findings of their gender inequality report and the steps the industry needs to take to intervene.
They found that change was slowed by “risk-averse” behaviours which favour hiring known individuals rather than taking a ‘risk’ on women, an idea that was echoed through the rest of the panel discussions.
Actress Polly Kemp and screenwriting unionist Lesley Gannon discussed the lack of female written scripts being chosen by commissioners and the effect this has on the portrayal of women.
Polly co-founded ERA 50:50 which promotes equal representation for actresses and addresses pay inequality, the lack of opportunities, and agency. Gannon and Kemp addressed ideas of tokenism versus sustainability and the responsibility for content creators to represent society equally.
"This is our opportunity for academia and industry to work together to break down the invisible barriers for women.” Lucy Brown
Award-winning comedian Tiff Stevenson, who has featured on popular panel shows such as Mock the Week, spoke about her experiences about being the ‘token’ woman and the issues she has faced working in TV and dealing with its lack of diversity.
She feels like she has had to work much harder to earn her place because "there cannot be true meritocracy until there’s a level playing field” and has found that male colleagues have been jealous of her being a recipient of positive discrimination.
Much of the talks addressed the frustrations and the barriers to progress within the industry but there have been positive developments as a result. Belinde Ruth Stieve introduced NEROPA (Neutral Roles Parity) a program which takes roles and sees if it can be neutralised to help rebalance the casting process.
Neil Percival, a lecturer at Northumbria University, and Miranda Wayland, Interim Head of Diversity and Inclusivity at BBC Studios, talked about career progression, addressing unconscious bias, and redesigning leadership roles to reduce gender bias.
Lucy Brown rounded off the conference with: “we haven’t got all the answers, but at least we’re here and part of the conversation.”
Find out more about the Gender Equality in Television: Behind the Scenes On and Off the Screen conference.
Words by Maha Khan, BA (Hons) Journalism student.