Underrepresented writers in TV industry face prolonged bias and discrimination, study suggests

The Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity (TTIE) supported by Pop Culture Collaborative and Women in Film has found that the underrepresented writers in the television are still battling obstacles

                            Underrepresented writers in TV industry face prolonged bias and discrimination, study suggests

There has reportedly always been slow progress for underrepresented women/non-binaries, people of color, LGBTQ, and people with disabilities. Now, a new study shows they continue to face discrimination and bias, despite efforts to monitor and track the representation in TV writer's rooms. In their second annual 'Behind the Scenes: The State of Inclusion and Equity in TV Writing' report, the Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity (TTIE) has found that the underrepresented writers in the television are still battling obstacles in having their voices heard.

The TTIE, supported by Pop Culture Collaborative and Women in Film includes a group of various television studies that give insight into the inequalities in television writing. It also gives specific suggestions on how to use the inferences to map out solutions and change the processes and opportunities for writers that hail from diverse backgrounds and communities within the writers rooms, networks, and studios.

They have worked together to study and uncover the barriers of entry that underrepresented writers within the television industry often face. A vast majority of these injustices have gone unnoticed or unreported. 

The 2020 survey called for writers to submit testimonials and reports of experiences surrounding inclusion and equality in their recent writers' rooms dating from January 2018 to December 2019. It included those writers that identified as underrepresented and those that did not. Women and non-binary respondents comprised 71.5 percent, while 54.7 percent of those surveyed made-up people of color. Individuals identified as LGBT comprised 31.2 percent of the respondents and 7.5 percent were those with disabilities.


Concluding the survey, they found that 68 percent of underrepresented writers in the TV industry have reportedly faced discrimination in the workplace, which had an increase from 64 percent reported last year. Nearly 31 percent of those writers said they had experienced sexual harassment, with 58 percent confirming being subjected to other kinds of harassment and bullying. 

Since the first survey released in March 2019, underrepresented TV writers have reported few opportunities for advancement. 49 percent said they had repeated the staff writer position at least once, and 27.6 percent said they had repeated other titles, instead of being promoted between seasons of from show to show. For staff writers of color, that number has increased to 55 percent.

Furthermore, merely 33 percent of the underrepresented writers said they have assumed creative control over their work through the title of showrunners on the shows that are in development. 

Although the underrepresented writer has worked within a writer's room, their inclusion in the television making process doesn't ascertain that the story they pitch will be mirrored on-screen or fully-inclusive. 39.4 percent of the underrepresented writers who responded to the survey said they have witnessed the underrepresented characters in their shows either being deleted or subject to stereotyping.

As many as 10.2 percent reported being actually fired for pushing back on stereotypical characters or storylines. 33.9 percent of respondents, in addition, said they had been told to change the character's identity in order to increase the marketability of the project. 

Photo by Scott Graham (Unsplash)

Based on the survey's findings, the TTIE proposed some solutions to improve the working conditions for the underrepresented,  such as widespread data collection, tracking, and frequent review of inclusion and equity data across the industry to gather significant information from all TV writers rooms. This also includes the non-writing producers, executives, agents, and managers and the data should be available for access on an annual or bi-annual basis to scour out the gaps that persist in inclusive hiring. 

Another suggestion is for companies to use a fully-funded independent reporting system, where writers can share their concerns or any experiences of bias, discrimination, and harassment, without any fear of facing consequences. Furthermore, it noted that the system should include a penalty for offenders. It also proposed increasing the number of underrepresented professionals in leadership roles, as well as mandatory and complete bias training for those with superintendence or supervisory roles.

TTIE conducted its sample survey between October 15 and December 1, 2019. 333 underrepresented working TV writers, alumni, program or fellowship respondents, and writers room support staff were the subject of study. 

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