Published on: 30 April 2014 in Campaigns

Women Directors - Who’s Calling the Shots? Women Directors in British Television Production

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On 8 May Directors UK published ‘Women Directors - Who’s Calling the Shots? Women Directors in British Television Production’This report is the result of research into the current employment landscape which shows that despite women representing almost 30% of the TV and film directing workforce, attitudes within the media industry are preventing women from reaching their full potential.

The data comes from analysis of a sample of programmes broadcast up to 2012, coupled with the credits of Directors UK’s database of 5,000 directors, which represents the vast majority of directors working in film and television in the UK.

Analysis of programmes shows that the picture varies widely between programme genres, and is getting worse over time. Women are poorly represented directing drama, comedy and entertainment programmes; many of the most popular drama, comedy and entertainment programmes have never been directed by women. More factual output is directed by women, but here women directors mostly found work on programmes to do with body issues, food, or homes.

Directors UK looked into the reasons for the poor statistics, talking to broadcasters, production companies and Directors UK members. The broadcasters and production companies we have shared the research with have been shocked by the findings, and have committed to working with Directors UK to find effective solutions to change the current employment levels.  Industry reaction has been largely positive: Directors UK has already begun to work with BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to create and roll out a number of initiatives to address the problem UK-wide, including training for women directors, mentoring, CV clinics and networking sessions with media executives involved in making hiring decisions.

Key findings


0% of women directors have ever worked on many popular dramas and entertainment shows. Only 13% of all drama episodes were directed by women in 2011 and 2012; down from 14% in the total sample. Only 11% of all drama series and serial episodes were directed by women in 2011 and 2012; down from 15% in the total sample. 0% of sci-fi/fantasy genre drama episodes were directed by women in 2011 and 2012; down from 4% of the total sample.    Only 9% directed detective/crime serials in 2011 and 12.

Entertainment and Comedy

8% of all entertainment and comedy programmes featured were directed by women in 2011-2012; down from 12% in the total sample. In 2011 – 2012 - 18% of sitcoms and just 2% of game shows and panel shows were directed by women. 32% of shiny floor shows were directed by women in 2011-2012; down from 40% in the total sample. Although it is worth noting that nearly all of these figures are accounted for by the output of just one female director.


16% of all children’s programmes in the total sample were directed by women. 9% of all children’s drama in the total sample were directed by women. 0% women directors on some genre led children’s drama (sci fi/action adventure).


50% of all factual programmes in the total sample were directed by women compared to 69% directed by men. 49% of all factual programmes were directed by women in 2011-12 compared to 68% directed by men. 63% of all programmes (featured in this report) about body and health were directed by women, compared to 50% by men. 61% of all factual programmes (featured in this report) about lifestyle and home were directed by women, compared to 72% by men. 29% of all programmes (featured in this report) about technology and science were directed by women, compared to 83% by men. 40% of current affairs output (featured in this report) were directed by women, compared to 66% by men.

N.B. Please note that with these figures (especially in factual) do not necessarily add up to 100% - this is because programmes can have more than 1 principal director. The figures above refer to the percentage of episodes with a male/female director.

Women make up 27% of the Directors UK membership.

Key recommendations That the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and BskyB make monitoring of freelance workers by production companies an explicit delivery requirement as part of the commissioning process. That the broadcasting companies take steps to ensure a minimum of 30% of women directors on their total production and commissioning, to be met in 2017. That in-house and independent production companies work with us to increase the pool of women drama directors and undertake further research into hiring practices in drama. That fair selection recruitment standards and processes are applied to both freelance and permanent staff That broadcasters and production companies work with Directors UK to hold regular networking events for directors and executives. That broadcasters and production companies work with Directors UK to hold regular CV workshops  for directors and executives responsible for hiring. That mentoring support is established across long-running serial dramas. That production companies offer more long-term contracts to women directors. Why does this matter?

In 2014 there should be equal access to equal opportunities in the workplace - this is just as important in television as it is in other industries. Television reflects society and society's attitudes and should do so both behind and in front of camera.

Here are a few of the questions that have already been raised:

Directing is a tough job in a competitive field - the cream rises to the top. Maybe women are taking themselves out of the career by choice - because it's tough and the rewards are not high enough?

Women directors are getting shortlisted for awards, winning awards, and making short films that get selected for festivals. The talent is not in question. But they're not getting put forward or considered for jobs because there are preconceptions about what a director looks like which all too often stops women getting a look in.

Are you sure that it is gender bias and not women selecting out of the profession due to the difficulties of combining directing with having a family?

Most of our women members are actually in the 34-44 age bracket - a key child-bearing and child raising age group. Also many of our male directors have families too! So no, it's not because of the demands of having a family. It's about opportunity, are women getting the same breaks to showcase their talents? That's what we're working with production companies to ensure.

Why is the data so old?

Throughout 2013 we met with production companies to discuss the data and together explore possible reasons and solutions.   So when we began this research we were looking at work up to the year ending 2012. This was to ensure that we included work that’s been reported and checked as part of our annual reporting and payments process – offering a complete and accurate record of broadcast works for that period.  (A reporting year for Directors UK runs from July-June and reporting is completed by the December of that year.  For example we have just completed our reporting for the year 2012-13.)  

Surely by not including current works you are giving a distorted picture. TV moves quickly, how do we know that it’s still the case today?

We know it’s still like this because we monitor credits every day.  We’ve collated a full year of statistics to build a complete picture – but any member of our distribution team can tell you how often women directors are credited compared to the men.

There are many programmes not featured in the research, why not?  

We looked at repeating series, returning dramas, returning factual strands, as this is how we can see whether it’s a one–off or a genuine trend.  We also focused on providing a broad picture, across all programme genres, from the production companies which produce most of what we watch, so it gives us a real picture of the TV landscape.  The independent production companies we spoke to account for over 43% of the turnover achieved by the top 100 indies.  And on top of that we’ve also looked at BBC and ITV Studios productions.   So it’s quite a comprehensive snapshot.

Why have you not included feature films?

The BFI produced a report in December looking at film directors and writers.  The focus of our research was specifically on television production as the largest area of employment for directors. 

Does your membership cover all directors?

We have over 5,000 members.  Due to the nature of our reporting and royalty payment scheme our membership reflects almost all working directors with broadcast credits. 

Targets are dangerous – how do you then know that you got the job because you’re good? Or because they just needed a woman?

The directors are out there! All our members have programme credits so have proven themselves already! They can already do the job they’d like to be hired to do!  So we’re talking about giving people the opportunity to fulfil the job requirements that they’ve already proven that they can do.  

Are there enough women directors to deliver this – particularly in drama?

Yes.  We’ve based our recommendations on the current workforce available.  30% reflects the percentage of our working female director membership.   Directors often do work across genres or aspire to move across genres, so opening up opportunities in all genres allows for such movement and career development. 

What about the impact on male directors?

We campaign, lobby and negotiate on behalf of all members, as our work on creative rights, pay review and creative choice will attest. We support the fair employment of all directors from any gender or ethnic background. So we’re keen to strike a balance, which is something all our members – male and female – can truly get behind. Clearly the current situation is not balanced if 30% of our membership is not accessing 30% of the work.  

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