New Study Finds Underrepresented Writers Continue To Face Bias And Discrimination In TV Writers Rooms

The Think Tank for Inclusion and Equity (TTIE) has released their second “Behind the Scenes: The State of Inclusion and Equity in TV Writing” report and although the industry has seen an increase in efforts to monitor and track representation in writers rooms, underrepresented voices are still jumping over hurdles.

The TTIE is supported by Pop Culture Collaborative and Women in Film and includes a group of diverse television study sheds light on inequities in television writing while giving suggestions on how to use these insight to form solutions and change processes and opportunities for writers from diverse backgrounds within writers rooms, networks, and studios.

Since the first survey was released last March, underrepresented TV writers (which include women/non-binary, people of color, LGBTQ and people with disabilities.) have reported securing title bumps and pay increases. The data from the first survey has also paved a path for increased efforts to monitor and track representation in writers rooms, an industry-wide survey on sexual harassment, abuse, and bias in entertainment, and the development of grassroots organizing efforts working to improve opportunities and providing support for underrepresented and marginalized communities.

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In terms of the current landscape, the report wasn’t exactly delivering the best news. Underrepresented TV writers are seeing low wages at the support staff level. In addition, the prevalence of unpaid development work and fellowships/internships continue to act as systemic barriers to entry into the industry. The report also finds that even when underrepresented writers land and secure their first job, they face barriers to promotion and advancement which hinders their career trajectory.

There seems to be a familiar story with the survey as it reports that underrepresented writers continue to navigate a terrain of bias and discrimination as they do their job. This includes erasure and stereotyping of characters to make them more appealing to the masses as well as writers losing their jobs as a result of pushing back on these issues. In addition, the issue of sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination continue to exist with writers — especially for underrepresented writers. The vast majority of these incidents went unreported and unresolved.

Top highlights of the survey also include:

  • 68.5% of underrepresented writers experienced discrimination in the TV industry, more than twice the rate of overrepresented writers (30.8%).
  • 49.2% of underrepresented writers have repeated staff writer at least once. This jumps to 55.0% for people of color. Comparatively, only 34.6% of overrepresented writers have repeated staff writer at least once.
  • 27.6% of underrepresented writers have repeated other titles (excluding EP)
  • 18.8% of respondents said there were no underrepresented upper-level writers in their most recent room. 45.2% of respondents said there was only one.
  • 39.4% of respondents have witnessed erasure and/or stereotyping of underrepresented characters on their shows.
  • 10.2% of respondents report being fired for pushing back on stereotypical characters/storylines.
  • Underrepresented writers are almost 25.0% less likely to have sold a pitch or pilot compared to overrepresented writers.
  • 33.9% of underrepresented writers have been asked to change a character’s identity to increase the odds of selling a project.
  • Only 32.9% of underrepresented writers are assured creative leadership and showrunner status on their own shows in development.

As a result, TTIE presented a couple of solutions including the widespread data collection, tracking, and review across the industry, gathering insight and knowledge from all TV writers rooms, as well as within the ranks of non-writing producers, executives, agents, and managers. This data should be made available on an annual or bi-annual basis.They also suggest full funding for an independent reporting system for bias, discrimination and harassment that protects victims as well as review and elimination of bias and/or discrimination in staffing submissions and development.

They also present the solution of having an increased number of underrepresented professionals in leadership roles as well as a mandate for management and implicit bias training for those with oversight and supervisory roles.

TTIE’s “Behind the Scenes”  was conducted between October 15 through December 1, 2019. It surveyed 333 underrepresented working TV writers, program/fellowship participants and alumni, and writers room support staff.

Read the full study here.

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