Lulu Elliott of female crewing talent agency, RA Agency, on addressing the gender pay gap in TV and film

In this article, I would like to shine a light on the realities surrounding the gender pay gap and look at the experts’ advice as to how to put an end to this unfair situation.

When asked about payment offered to diverse crews, there is a pattern in which yes, more diverse projects are being commissioned and more diverse crews are hired, but on low budgeted projects not high end.

It would seem that they come to us for the low budget jobs, it looks like the diverse led projects that need diverse crews are always underfunded, therefore diverse crews are pigeonholed in the low pay end jobs, there is a pattern emerging.’ Would ‘Action Man’ have a bigger budget than ‘Barbie’? Why didn’t they want to spend money to finish ‘Bat Girl? Why is Amazon’s ‘Anansi Boys’ lower budget than ‘The Omens’? Why is the next Star Wars TV series that’s black cast led, half the budget than say ‘Endor’? Plus, many more examples. If we are to reach equality, these companies need to spend the same money, not treat it as a diversity box ticking exercise and spend as little money as possible. We could be wrong, but there is a picture that’s emerging that suggests this and we have noticed.

Yes, there is more diverse content being made but not the same money is paid so what’s stopping diverse crew being kept in this low budget realm? And not all diverse crews want to work on projects just because it’s a diverse-led story or cast, they may want to work on the top jobs with the tent pole budgets.

Same with women, we are approached often for feminist/empowering projects. However, they say they can’t pay full rates but want an all-female crew!?

It would be good to see the spending breakdown of projects that are diverse led then not. An example I have heard, allegedly the Swedish film institute said 50% of the film budget will be given to female directors, but apparently the money wasn’t split 50/50, just the number of projects and actually the male directors got more money for their projects, so it can be misleading.

Moving forwards is TRANSPARENCY; this is the key. We need more transparency when it comes to budgets and spends that can reflect rates and deals. We need a study or data collection to compare budget spends on diverse led vs non diverse led. Look at the makeup of the crew and compare their rates. There will be a pattern. This is essential so that we can make sure it is fair for all from the get-go and learn from these clumsy quick fixers, i.e., commissioning a lower budget diverse led content but not looking at the bigger picture or what diverse crew and audiences want.

There is some research which has been done thanks to the Time Project published in January found that women working in TV and Film are routinely being paid less than men. The gender pay gap is revealed to be 17.6 percent for those on daily rates and 16.6 percent for those on weekly rates, with the greatest pay disparity occurring amongst women aged between 20 and 29, who are found to be earning 39 percent less than their male counterparts.

The Time Project was created by SMTJ in response to the frustration that was felt about the fact that so much talk was happening about the problems in the industry, but so little was being done. The Time Project basically allows people to anonymously log their hours and their rates and then they can also compare those to other people in their department in their genre, in their role…

The idea is that we can see by looking at hours worked and rates and looking at them alongside the personal characteristics of these anonymous people who are logging their info. We can see where the problems lie, whether it is by department, by ethnicity, by gender… we can start seeing in quite granular detail who is working the longest hours and also, where are the issues with pay.

Generally, women in their 30s, 40s and 50s worked fewer hours than their male counterparts although it showed very clearly that the gender pay disparity is there, particularly in the age range between 20 and 29. So it shows that it exists right at the very beginning really, at the early stages of a woman’s career they are already getting paid less than their male counterparts. The gap narrows as they get older, but it doesn’t close.

In a recent webinar on this very subject organised by Talent Managers and presented by Becs Hall  International Women’s Day 2022 – The Gender Pay Gap , we heard from experts about the situation and ways to manage it. The panel is only accessible to Talent Manager members, but we wanted to share the findings:

According to Michelle Reynolds, (co-founder of SMTJ), “generally speaking and certainly in unscripted, women tend to be pushed down the production route or casting, whereas the men tend to be pushed towards more sort of technical roles’’

A crew agent commented: “A lot of the same traits apply in both scripted and unscripted, as men often historically go into those technical roles where there are gangs of them…”. “Look at the lighting crew, there are great groups of them and they stick together. Whereas in the camera crew, because the script supervisor is technically in the camera crew, there is one of her and it usually is a ‘her’… and in hair and make-up often there are not many, or there is only one at a senior level; costume, smaller departments… All of these are inherently female departments and they inherently earn less because I think they haven’t come out and shouted about it in quite the same way and they haven’t stuck together in quite the same way. This is about us empowering ourselves, I think there is quite a lot we can do at base level. We need men to be allies, we need systems to change”.

Head of BECTU, Philipa Childs, assured that “over the years we have been very male-dominated and some of our key activists have been men as well. We just haven’t had this conversation enough about equal pay in the industry and valuing different types of roles equally, so I think that if you think about the traditional workplace or just about the broadcasters, for example, they have all got equal pay gaps, so little wonder that the freelancer’s environment has got equal pay gaps too”. She added: “We know that women don’t ask for pay rises, we know that women are more timid about asking for what they deserve and what their skills are worth, what other people are getting paid in the industry and being bolder about asking for their worth as well”.

As stated by the crew agent: “It is up to us to start those conversations, to start shouting this from the rooftops… to start asking the questions. Why is that so? How is the value worked? How have these rates come to be historically? Do we all agree with them? Do we want to question them? I think those conversations are incredibly important and to take that to the broadcasters because everybody should earn a fair and decent wage and I don’t think there has to be the enormous disparity between certain roles that exists at the moment”.

When speaking on other issues such as colour, Helen Landau reported that she had been talking to other colleagues, other black PMs, and found that all their stories are very similar. “We are not recognised and we have to be twice as knowledgeable and work twice as hard basically as our white counterparts”. Speaking about her situation and that of others she said: “To be honest about it, to be a black woman, to be a PM and to be a mother is near impossible. You know we are mothers out there, but some of them don’t see us as mothers unfortunately. So, we really are not included in that space. … we really are not. I’ve been in the industry for 30 years and there is always talk about diversity, and they have been talking about this for decades”.

Michelle Reynolds assured that it almost kind of exaggerates this idea of being grateful for being in the industry and as a woman you already feel that you have to feel that you are so grateful to still be here, so I won’t push for that pay-rise and then you add on an extra level like being a black woman, or you are disabled…

Another Agent stated, “I think it is about a reboot and a reset in our own heads and I think women particularly, these are generalisations you know, a lot of men suffer from this as well, but so many women see negotiation as confrontation. I think in terms of scripting things have got a lot better in terms of sharing information about rates. Talking about them…. So, information is power and the more we all share that information, the more powerful we become. See it as problem solving, value yourself, go in … and the other thing women do is that we justify way too much. Comedian and writer Deborah Francis White, who does the guilty feminist broadcast says: The difference between men and women is that men present opinion as fact and women present fact as opinion. We hold our conversation with all these little words to soften things like ‘I was just hoping’, ‘would you mind if’… Men just lay it out: ‘That is my rate, that is what I want and for that I will do XYZ’. We need to use fewer words, justify less and be more confident. Say it slower, say it louder and then stop talking. And the word ‘just’. Go to all your emails and remove the word ‘just’.

At the top of the Talent Manager website, you can access the rate checker from there and it is really very simple. Basically, you can search for the role that you are going for, the timeslot that the programme is going to be in and then it will bring up all the rates for that particular job and it will help you make a decision and be better informed. There is also the BECTU rate card as well. Ratecards: find out the rates for the work you do | Bectu

“Rate guidance as we like to describe it”, said Philipa Childs. “Part of the controversy was around whether we were saying that those were the rates that people should be paid in those roles and we weren’t. It is a piece of guidance that will evolve and will grow and obviously the more people we have inputting that information, the more we will have and I think the important thing about rates and the work that BECTU does around rates is the reality and that the strength is in numbers, without a shadow of a doubt, so that is partly the reason why, as Sara described, certain roles get paid a higher level because those branches in BECTU are really strong, firm and clear and communicate with each other a lot about what is being paid on different productions. We have some great work going on in branches like ‘hair and make-up’ and costumes so that they become more informed and stronger and be more assertive around that”.

As stated by Michelle Reynolds, “It won’t work if men are left out of the discussion. Unfortunately, at this point men are the people who are in power. They are ones that are putting out the budgets from the broadcasters. If you are a man in TV, make sure that your co-worker is at the same rate as you. Talk about your rate, it is so helpful, make sure, if you are a man who is setting a budget, giving Helen a budget for a documentary, make sure there is enough in there to pay everybody fairly. You have got to help us out, because as much as we push, it has to come from the men as well”.

Talent Manager has the rate checker Talent Manager launches freelance rate checker available to all and check that out, but also, other freelancers, jobs that you have done, get your rates added in there as well because that all helps us to get the information out there to women who are trying to get paid the same as men. So please do go and check it out when you can.

What is important is that we keep this conversation open and we have to know that it comes from us as well. Our own bias, which we might not even be aware of, must be considered in all of these discussions too.

(BFI gender pay gap report)


Jon Creamer

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