Be flexible to retain talent
TV can do more to stop talented women leaving the industry just when they reach their creative peak, says Kate Beal
I grew up with the assumption that being a successful woman with a sustain- able career in television was an achievable normality. My mother Jan Beal started out as a news copytaker in the 1960s and went on to achieve great things in a very male-dominated environment.
I’m not sure my daughter will feel the same. My contemporaries and I are largely freelance and have no long-term career expectations.
After a recent panel discussion on women in TV at a top media university, I was surrounded by young girls telling me of their experiences.They were excited to see a number of female speakers on the panel, but they surprised me in their assumption of a basic division that boys do the technical jobs and girls take on the production roles.
When these girls enter the workplace, thankfully they won’t face the old-school sexism that others have grown up with. Incidents ignored, or seen as part of the job, only 10 years ago are no longer acceptable. The line is clear and women are more respected by their male colleagues than ever.
Young women make great strides in TV and are encouraged to do so. Over the years, formal and informal mentoring of young women has made a real difference.
But it’s not just sexism, everyday or otherwise, that we have to overcome now in 2014 – it’s practicalities. This is where I think the major difference lies between my generation and my mum’s.
It’s a challenge for a woman in her midthirties to have a family and keep working, especially if she is a producer/director.
Our predecessors had staff jobs, maternity leave and pensions. It’s tough to bring up a child amid the instability of a casual workforce with demanding filming schedules – but the peer-led organisation Media Parents can be a great help.
We need more flexible working hours, clearer, thought-out production schedules and job shares. None of this is groundbreaking – we just need to do more. When a woman hits her mid-thirties, she’s in her creative stride. That’s when we need to retain talent – not lose it.
Ageism combined with sexism is still at play. Women tend to leave the industry by the age of 50 and I wonder how much of this is by choice. Over the past 10 years, I’ve watched my mum’s contemporaries have to fight for jobs they are more than qualified for.
Yet despite some of the setbacks, I believe we can make this current television landscape work, and some are already leading the way in suggesting improvements. My mum’s generation led the way too and we can continue to break that glass ceiling to achieve all they dreamed of.
Kate Beal is managing director of Talent TV South