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Is TV a young girl's game?

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11 March 2010

If you look at the upper echelons of TV, there are plenty of women at the top table, from Dawn Airey at Channel Five through to Lorraine Heggessey at Talkbackthames, Jay Hunt at BBC1 and Janice Hadlow at BBC2.

On the surface, TV is one of the most open and accessible industries to women, with the glass ceiling well and truly smashed. Yet Skillset's 2009 Employment Census Report is due to reveal real differences between men and women in the TV workforce, with particular evidence that women aged over 35 are women leaving.

The issue is being discussed up at a MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Edinburgh TV Festival/BAFTA debate later this month, titled Is TV a young girl's game?, which will look at what barriers are being faced by women and ask whether the industry is institutionally ageist and sexist?

Ahead of the MGEITF/BAFTA debate, Televisual picked up on the subject and asked four senior female execs if TV is a young girl's game? Here's what they had to say:

Karen Smith, joint md, Shine TV
"I bloody hope not! And speaking as a female md, that's part of a group run by women, I really don't think so. The brutal truth is that life is easier if you get yourself well established before you have children. It is also hard work and long hours but, if you're talented, TV is probably more forgiving than most industries. Men in TV often have as many childcare issues as women - a commissioner meeting was rescheduled recently because he had to pick his kids up from school - nobody minded. Good people are the key to any company thriving and are hard to find so must be cherished. If that's not your experience, you're working at the wrong place."

Anne Morrison, director, BBC Academy
"We need the life experience of older women reflected on our screens, yet the insecurity, long and erratic hours of our industry mean that too many women are still having to decide between family life and working in TV. When I started in the BBC in the 1980s it felt like a gentleman's club. Over the years, family friendly policies have meant that now half of BBC Vision's workforce are women. However, being a freelance director and a mother requires as much creativity in working out support systems at home as goes on screen. Take my tip and consider finding a supportive stay at home partner. It's made all the difference to me."

Eileen Gallagher, chief executive, Shed Productions
"Simple answer is it shouldn't be - but the stats seem to prove the point. Looking at Shed Media's employment stats (PAYE only, so not counting the armies of production staff) I was surprised to find that 60% of our staff are female, but the average age of men and women was virtually the same (male 34yrs; female 33.2yrs). Women in our company seem to fare well in terms of employment and don't appear to be discriminated against as they grow older. Our HR department works to support staff in their life choices with enhanced parental benefits and opportunities to work from home. It's the right thing to do morally but also makes sound economic sense."

Sue Davidson, executive producer, The Apprentice, Talkbackthames
"I don't want to be negative because I am enjoying my TV career and consider myself to be 'in my prime'. And as I am working in an indie run by successful women there doesn't seem much to complain of. But I have a deep, niggling worry that one day soon it will all come to an end, not because I have run out of ideas and energy but because I might look older. A bit like our on-screen counterparts, women are perceived not to age as well as men. I do fear this prejudice and even commenting here is a bit like 'coming out' and feels risky."

Working in TV: is it a Young Girl's Game?, presented by MediaGuardian Edinburgh Int'l TVFestival and BAFTA, takes place on 17 March at BAFTA, 195 Piccadilly. See www.bafta.org

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