The lack of diversity in Canadian media is ‘hard to ignore’ — and the numbers prove it

Women of colour and Indigenous women are severely underrepresented, both on and behind the screen. Getty

According to a new study conducted by Women in View, gender balance has improved in Canadian film and television since 2012.

However, women of colour and Indigenous women remain severely underrepresented — both on and behind the screen.

Women in View is a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to strengthening gender representation and diversity in Canadian media.

The 2019 report analysed the 90 television series funded by the Canadian Media Fund (CMF) between 2014 and 2017, as well as the 267 film productions and 831 development projects funded by Telefilm between 2015 and 2017.

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Between 2014 and 2017, the percentage of women in key creative television roles increased by 11 per cent.

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However, only 47 of the 3,206 television contracts issued in those years were given to women of colour.

In film, women’s share of contracts increased by five per cent between 2015 and 2017.

Similarly, between 2015 and 2017, only 29 of the 1637 contracts issued went to women of colour.

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The lack of Indigenous women in both industries is especially concerning.

Between 2014 and 2017, only 22 television contracts went to Indigenous women.

Of the 24 television series created in 2017, none had any Indigenous women on staff.

In film, of the 1,637 film contracts issued between 2015 and 2017, just 12 were given to Indigenous women. 

These numbers may shock you, but to those at Women in View, the results are unsurprising.

She’s an Oji-Cree storyteller and a band member of Garden Hill First Nation.

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“I knew it was bad… I wasn’t shocked, but it was still [hard] to look at. It’s hard to ignore.”

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Tracey Deer, an award-winning Mohawk filmmaker and board chair for Women in View, feels similarly.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be so dismal, but… it is clear in what we’re watching” she told Global News.

According to Deer, there are “gatekeepers” at the very top of Canadian media who are not representative of the diverse Canadian population.

She added these individuals decide which shows are going to be interesting to Canadians as a whole.

“It’s an untested model. It’s easier to go along with what they’ve always done, and it’s easier to agree with the majority of the voices in the room,” said Deer. “Somebody has to act at that high level and [make] these stories representative of the society we are.”

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Comparing Canada’s largest media companies

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With regards to independently produced CMF-funded television series from 2014 to 2017, gender balance between the biggest Canadian broadcasters differed significantly, largely because of the different policies each has in place around balance representation in leadership.

For example, Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) featured the highest percentage (27.3 per cent) of women’s work.

This is likely due to the network’s policy that it will only consider proposals from a producer who is an Indigenous person (defined as a First Nations, Métis or Inuit individual living in Canada), or from an Indigenous production company (defined as a sole proprietorship, a limited company, a co-operative, a partnership or a not-for-profit organization in which Indigenous persons have at least 51 per cent ownership and control).

Similarly, the CBC, who had the second highest share of women-led work (26.9 per cent), has a mandate to hire at least 50 per cent women for director roles on original programming.

“In 2016, we were the first Canadian broadcaster to take a big step forward by announcing our commitment to increase the number of women directing CBC scripted series,” said general manager of programming, Sally Catto.

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“Women now direct 50 per cent or more of all episodes on 15 CBC series, and more than half of these series are also female-led projects. And we have no intention of slowing down that momentum.”

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Other organizations are actively working to implement similar strategies.

“Corus is fully committed to supporting a culture of inclusion in our company and our industry in order to grow and sustain greater diversity of people and content,” said Cheryl Fullerton, EVP of people and culture at Corus (the company which owns Global News).

“We have specific initiatives underway to increase gender parity in live action and animated content creation in addition to a recent refreshed internal focus on diversity and inclusion to strengthen our people’s awareness and engagement in this area.”

In the report, Corus was third (17.8 per cent), and Rogers Media was right behind them (16.1 per cent).

Fullerton added: “We welcome all conversations, both within Corus and with our industry partners, to explore options and find new ways forward.”

Bell Media had the lowest share, with just 15.7 per cent of their television series produced between 2014 and 2017 being women-led.

Emily Young Lee, a spokesperson for Bell, said that Pinewood Toronto Studios recently sponsored the Canadian Academy’s successful women-focused program. (Bell Media is the majority owner of PTS.)

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Beyond that, the company is looking into improving their numbers with their own research.

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“We haven’t been able to replicate the WIV numbers because we don’t know exactly how they have sourced their data. It seems to be a particular slice of the industry and activity during a particular time — i.e. they only cover CMF-funded English language scripted projects that went to air during those four years, and women producers are not included,” said Young Lee.

“Regardless, the industry must do much better to support gender parity in Canadian production and this report is a welcome reminder.”

APTN and Rogers Media did not respond to the request for comment.

These initiatives are a step in the right direction, but there’s still more to be done.

“I think the important thing to see is that the perspective I bring as an Indigenous woman growing up in the country is far different from a white woman growing up in urban Toronto,” said Deer.

“I bring different stories [and] different opinions, and there’s tremendous value there.”

The power of diverse perspectives

When Emmy-nominated writer and director Nathalie Younglai first saw herself reflected on screen, she was mind-blown.

“It was Lucy Liu on Charlie’s Angels… she was this strong character and she didn’t have any Chinese stereotypes,” Younglai said.

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“She was what I wanted to be like.”

Now, as someone who works on the creative side, Younglai is a big advocate for having a diverse set of voices and perspectives in the room.

“It isn’t a one-dimensional conversation, and [it allows us] to really dig deep when talking about characters and issues,” she said.
“We all have slightly opposing views on things, [and that] brings a lot more richness to it.”

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Daniels believes visibility in mainstream media is necessary to teach the broader public about what it means to be Indigenous.

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“I come from an amazing, vibrant Indigenous community… but there’s a huge disconnect,” she said.

In Daniels’ view, Indigenous-made content about Indigenous stories will help bridge the gap between communities.

“I almost feel badly for the people who don’t get to experience the amazing stories that are coming out of the community, because they’re not always in the mainstream.”

What’s next?

The Women in View 2019 report found that TV series showrun by women are more likely to achieve gender balance.

Known as the Showrunner Effect, productions with women showrunners in 2017 had 53 per cent women in the positions of writer, director and cinematographer.

In contrast, series run by men had only 14 per cent of women in the same positions.

All three women believe that hiring quotas are the most effective way to increase diversity and representation.

“We need whatever incentives we need to make this happen,” said Tracey Deer.

“There are individuals out there that want to be a part of change and that’s really exciting, but it needs to be an entire industry. It can’t rest on the shoulders of a few.”

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“It’s going to require courage to change things,” said Deer.

In her view, it’s not only about giving women an equal share of the business.

The focus should be on giving everyone — people of all races, genders and sexualities — a seat at the table.

“I am a big believer in bridge-building and collaboration and working together. We all need to work together,” Deer said.

“What we are putting out on our television screens really does shape our society, so those stories need to be representative of the society we are in.”


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