Diverse Voices: Opportunities Growing for Women in Hollywood

Oct 28, 2007  •  Post A Comment

An Old Boys’ Network may still run Hollywood, but a Young Women’s Network is working to equalize things.
Conversations with a number of women in the television industry—ranging from actresses to network executives—paint a picture of slow improvement in opportunities for females, with Baby Boomer and Generation X women leading the way.
While parity for all is nowhere on the horizon, the women say talent, focus and determination will lead to success.
“I know I defy the statistics,” says actress Beth Grant, who works in both film and TV and recently had a recurring role in CBS drama “Jericho.” “I’m 57, and I work all the time. It’s luck, a blessing and a gift.
“The first thing I noticed on ‘Jericho’ was that Carol Barbee was the showrunner.
Women showrunners are really rare,” Grant adds. “If women have dropped out of TV, it’s because they’re smart in knowing the hours are inhumane, and our children are more important.”
Women who have to choose between their careers and taking care of families often have made choices that men do not face. Grant, a familiar face in films including “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Flags of Our Fathers,” starred as Thelma Wainwright on ABC sitcom “Delta” in 1992, and shares one memory she’ll never forget.
“I had worked with (executive producer) Barry Kemp on ‘Coach’ and auditioned for ‘Delta’ when I was pregnant,” Grant says. “I went into labor the night we taped the 11th show. They shot everything twice, had a doctor on standby and I had to stop once for a contraction. But we got through the show, and the entire crew got in a line and hugged me as I left for the hospital.
“A lot of producers would have said no way, but Barry gave me the part. Women of my generation have had to align ourselves with men in order to learn how to be team players in the game.”
One female manager, who asked to remain unidentified, says that in many cases the women who succeed are physically attractive and know how not to threaten men.
“(Former ABC Entertainment President) Jamie Tarses was a victim of sexism in the business,” says the manager, who handles both male and female clients.
“She got slammed for being mean, but male executives are mean, too. People expect women to be nice. When they’re strong, they’re bitches. Strong men are just called ambitious.”
So what does being a team player in a game run by men entail?
“To be ‘one of the boys’ means not getting easily offended,” says Elizabeth Yost, VP development for the Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movie Channel. “I’m not talking about tolerating abusive language. But we’re in a very PC environment, and if someone’s constantly worried about every word, they’re probably not someone people want to be around.”
Yost, formerly executive producer for EMY Entertainment and an associate producer for Hearst Entertainment, says women have made great strides in the executive suite.
“We’ve gotten to the point where choices are made based on talent and not sex,” says Yost, who’s in her 40s. “A lot of my girlfriends are in senior positions around the industry. Women are running networks and divisions. There are women who struggle. But my advice is, don’t give up. Set your goals. There’ll be many opportunities for disappointment. Use them as opportunities to turn things around.”
Yost notes it’s also important to find a niche that’s compatible with your values. A woman with MTV interests probably won’t rise very rapidly at Spike. But any factor—race, ethnicity, age, gender—can be spun to be an advantage or a disadvantage.
Smart women focus on what they want and aren’t shy about speaking up. If needed, they ask others for help.
“Too many women are surprisingly demure in this business,” says Susanne Daniels, Lifetime’s entertainment president. “They allow themselves to be a part of the team, rather than the leader of the team. That said, I don’t think there’s a glass ceiling for women executives. It’s in the producing, directing and writing ranks that we need more women.”
Daniels says the way to make that happen is to make diversity a hiring criterion.
“We’re committed to diversity in our casting,” says Daniels, 42. “I think you have to say there’s a certain percentage of shows that you must develop with women and older writers. It has to be a priority.”
So what do members of the Young Women’s Network bring to the table that men don’t? Other than the food, the silverware, the plates and glasses? Perhaps it’s a realization that success isn’t measured by money and titles. Perhaps it’s the ability to juggle meetings, mothering and mentoring, knowing it’s impossible to have it all, at least all at once.
Daniels interrupts the interview to talk to her 8-year-old son on the phone. “Now I need you to try the swim team, just this one time,” she says, encouragingly. “Will you try it? It’s up to you. This week or next week?”
Clearly, the Old Boys’ Network is going to have to grow up.
Dinah Eng is a Los Angeles-based freelancer who writes a syndicated column for Gannett News Service.


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