Women make progress, but have a ways to go

Oct 14, 2002  •  Post A Comment

For women in television, the glass ceiling is cracking but it hasn’t been shattered yet.
Still, women have made marked progress in the TV business during the past several years. Look around and see that four of the six broadcast networks boast female entertainment presidents, that three TV studio heads are women and that many cable networks are run by women. Such a landscape didn’t exist several years ago and it likely will be vastly changed 10 years from today. While women have infiltrated the ranks of presidents of networks and divisions, the CEO and chairman positions are still dominated by men.
According to a study conducted this summer by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, fewer than one in five board members of the largest communications companies are women. At the 10 largest entertainment companies, 13 percent of directors and 14 percent of executives are women. Fox Entertainment and USA Networks had no women listed among their top executives in their 2001 annual reports, according to the study.
Gender gap narrowing
But the gender gap has narrowed, say today’s female TV executives. “I think it’s really a question of time and having people above you who are supportive,” said Nancy Tellem, president of CBS Entertainment.
In time, women will break past the president level and become CEOs as part of the natural progression up the corporate ladder, she said.
Ten years ago women didn’t have the same opportunities, said Donna Friedman, executive VP of Kids’ WB. “It’s just a matter of time that women going through the ranks are now just starting to reach the zenith,” she said.
Ms. Friedman, at age 35, is one of a new generation of women who has grown up with the notion that women can do anything because those are the examples she has seen. “I went to college in the ’80s,” she said. “I came out with a different perspective. I thought I could do anything. Women who are 10 years older paved the way for women like me.”
In fact, successful women such as Kay Koplovitz, Geraldine Laybourne and Anne Sweeney were the trailblazers-the women who proved to the powers that be that women could be successful if given the opportunity. The huge jump in the number of women in TV and in high-ranking positions in the business is due to talent and hard work by those trailblazers, said UPN Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff. “I think the strides made over the past few years have been pretty amazing,” Ms. Ostroff said. “There is always room for improvement but there is a not a lot of room for sour grapes.”
However, women still have a long way to go, said Barbara Corday, chair of the division of film and television production at the University of Southern California. “I still think the numbers are very small,” she said. “It’s great that there are more women presidents [but] it does strike me that many of the women we are talking about do still have a guy making the final decision. I don’t want to say women haven’t advanced, but I don’t want to say everything is peachy.”
In fact, despite evidence that women are rising through the ranks, entertainment companies still lag in promoting women, according to a 2000 study by Catalyst, a research and advisory organization working to advance women in business. The research concluded that only 5.6 percent of corporate officers at entertainment companies are women compared with a 12.5 percent average across all industries.
Too few showrunners, writers
Women will break through to the next level when more production companies are owned by women, Ms. Corday said.
While women have made inroads in programming there are still very few female directors, writers and show creators, said Susan Lyne, president of ABC Entertainment. “It will probably take one or two who are enormously successful,” she said. “If a woman creates `The X-Files’ or `Law & Order,’ it will be easier for the next round.”
Within five years, Ms. Lyne said, she expects to see not only female TV directors but also CEOs. “I think it’s the fact that once you have women at the level of network president a lot of opportunity comes because you have the chance to come through the door and have your idea heard,” she said. “You will see more women creating shows.”
Lifetime, a cable network whose primary goal is programming for women, has made it a priority to foster female writers and directors. Still, more women need to break through on the creative side and it’s imperative that executives give them the chance, said Carole Black, president and CEO of Lifetime Entertainment Services.
On the business side, women are assuming higher-ranking positions because there are more women in the pipeline to promote than several years ago, Ms. Black said. She added that gender is not an issue for her in deciding whom to promote, but examples of successful women can make executives more confident in promoting other women to top positions.
Young working women who are beginning to rise through the ranks don’t even see a glass ceiling, Ms. Lyne said. “I believe it exists at my level to some extent, but I don’t believe it exists for people who are 18,” she said.
Still, being a female executive isn’t easy. Balancing a career and a family is more challenging for a woman than it is for a man, Ms. Tellem said. There are still powerful societal obligations for women in professional and personal life, she said. Being a mother, wife and executive is certainly possible, but it takes work to make the pieces fit.
Ms. Friedman agreed. “Women in my generation really want it all,” she said. “A lot of women in the early days sacrificed a lot for their careers. I really believe the current generation is figuring out how to have it all.”
Despite the success stories in broadcast television, consolidation has hurt women in the cable operator business, said Benita Fitzgerald Mosely, president of Women in Cable & Telecommunications. A disproportionate number of women lost their jobs during the merger mania of the late ’90s-72 percent compared with 28 percent for men-because of the types of jobs that were eliminated. Women hold about 80 percent of the non-managerial jobs at cable operators but only 16 percent of the executive jobs, she said. Membership in WICT has dropped 10 percent during the past year.
In addition, women hold only 4 percent of jobs in telecommunications and cable at the executive VP level or higher. “It’s a constantly changing industry and women seem to be disproportionately affected by the changes,” she said.
Doing better in cable
The picture is brighter on the programming side of cable. Networks have been more entrepreneurial in nature whereas cable systems and operators have largely been family owned, Ms. Fitzgerald Mosely said.
Women have held higher-level positions in cable programming longer than in the other TV sectors and in Hollywood, said Kate McEnroe, president of AMC Networks. Programmers are more gender neutral and the influence women have wielded on profitable programming decisions has engendered continued work and success in that area.
“Women have created programming and been visionary behind the programming that makes money,” she said. “Now we are starting to see the ad community and others starting to understand the economic power of women. … Women are 50 percent of the population and control 80 percent of the purchasing power.”
The glass ceiling has been pushed higher and will continue to be broken by women in their 20s since that generation doesn’t see any inequality between men and women in the workplace, she said.
The rise of women in television is due in part to the plethora of channels, said Lauren Zalaznick, president of Trio. As content drives cable, it’s a natural progression for more women to assume executive positions at those channels since women have traditionally been strong in programming. In addition, more men were siphoned off from the TV industry in greater numbers during the dot-com boom and bust, leaving opportunities for women in TV, Ms. Zalaznick said.
While there are many female div
ision heads today, their positions may not carry as much authority as in years past since there is so much title inflation, said Mindy Herman, president and CEO of E! Entertainment Television, one of the few women CEOs.
“I want to see more women at the CEO level with final P&L [profit and loss] responsibility for an entertainment company. We really haven’t broken through until you have that first female CEO,” she said, excluding herself and talking about larger entertainment companies.
The highest ranks are still off limits, but sooner or later the glass ceiling will no longer exist. As Ms. Zalaznick said, “If people are still counting then clearly we aren’t there yet.”