Women making some gains in film, TV industry

August 14, 1991|By Claudia Puig | Claudia Puig,Los Angeles Times

Women in the film and television business are moving into more powerful decision-making jobs, but they are still not represented at the highest levels of most companies, according to a study conducted by Women in Film.

"The 'glass ceiling' has cracked, but it's still there," said Sally Steenland, who surveyed 20 companies and wrote the report, which was released yesterday.

The study -- commissioned by the non-profit women's organization, which was established to advance the fair employment of women in the entertainment industry and improve the depiction of women in movies and television -- measured the number of women working as executives at 20 major film and television studios and television networks as of January. The companies had 1,124 executives, 378 of them women.

The study, titled "The Employment of Executive Women in Film and Television: 1991," found that women made up 30 percent of a wide array of positions at middle-management levels. Nineteen of the organizations had at least one female vice president, but at the time of the study, only three -- Paramount Television, 20th Century Fox's Children's Programming Division and Columbia Pictures' Marketing Division -- had women presidents.

Women in Film's report shows that women may be faring somewhat better in the entertainment industry than in corporate America at large. The findings come on the heels of a Department of Labor study released last week that found that women and minorities were being excluded from the corporate "pipelines" that lead to executive positions.

However, women studio executives are most likely to be clustered at the middle level within corporations, the study found.

"Women have made significant strides into middle-management positions in film and TV production studios and at the networks," the study reported. "At these levels women have reached critical mass: They constitute one-third or more of the work force."

"Women who work in the industry are proud of their gains but impatient to advance further," the study said. "It's rarely only a 'bunch of guys' sitting around a table anymore. . . . And yet, the number of women sitting at the table grows smaller in upper-echelon jobs."

Among movie studios, Columbia Pictures employed the highest percentage of women, 38 percent, while Walt Disney-Touchstone and TriStar employed the lowest, both with 23 percent. In television, Lorimar ranked highest in its employment of women, with 56 percent of all its positions filled by women; 20th Television employed the fewest women by percentage, with 19 percent, the study found.

Ironically, the current chairman of 20th Television is a woman, Lucy Salhenny. At the time of the study she was the president of Paramount Television.

"I can't respond [to the study results] yet, because I haven't been able to look at the numbers," she said. "But I can assure you that we will hire the best people for the job and I certainly enjoy working with women. Women are very competent, especially in the entertainment industry."

A Disney spokeswoman declined to comment on the study's results, saying she had not yet seen a copy. Representatives at TriStar and 20th Century Fox did not return phone calls.

The key question, Steenland said, is "why women haven't been able to make that final assault" on the top jobs.

'I think in general the industry probably got a push in the mid-'70s when there was affirmative action pressure from the FCC," she said in a phone interview, referring to the Federal Communications Commission. "That's when all of a sudden you saw a lot of very capable women being hired. But, those hired in the '70s feel their progress has stalled."

In interviews with women at the entertainment companies, Steenland found that they still had more difficulty getting hired and promoted and did not progress with the same speed as their male counterparts.

"Women in the industry attribute this unbalance to several factors: the natural bias that often favors men in male-dominated companies; the informal, social business opportunities (often centered around sports) that tend to include more men; family responsibilities that fall more heavily on women; and the fact that some women may remove themselves from the race to the top when they witness the price men pay to attain those positions," the study said.

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