Barb Williams on why Canadian TV still fails women

Declaring her frustration with women not moving fast enough up Canadian TV’s corporate ladder, Shaw Media’s Barb Williams on Thursday called for cross-industry dialogue and action to reduce the gender gap both on and off screen.

“There’s no doubt that we feel there’s way too big a gap,” Williams, SVP of content, told Playback Daily ahead of a Banff Industry Day panel on why women are still vastly under-represented among Canadian industry decision-makers.

“It’s changing, slowly. So we’re actively working at it,” Williams added.

The panel, entitled ‘Missrepresentation – Dissecting The Gender Gap In The Media Industry’, came two weeks after the New York-based Women’s Media Center issued a report in the U.S. that concluded American media, despite some gains for women, has “exceedingly more distance to travel on the road to gender-blind parity.”

Williams insisted there are differences with the experiences of women in Canadian and American media, but that both sectors shared a dominance of white men in top positions too slow to allow diversity into their ranks.

Besides encouraging an industry conversation, Williams said Shaw Media was taking pro-active steps to encourage, and even compel where necessary, a re-balancing of power in front and behind the camera.

“We put it in the licensing agreement: a person of colour and a woman must be in every writer’s room,” she said of one measure.

Producers must also submit a “diversity report” to Shaw Media indicating whether or not progress has been made.

“That forces us to have a conversation about what they (producers) did or didn’t do, and why,” Williams said.

The result is Shaw Media execs can learn from mistakes if the media industry continues to fail women attempting to climb the executive ladder.

Williams insisted getting more women behind the camera is important not just to build up their skills and expertise; as storytellers, men and women approach the world, and how it is portrayed on screen, differently. Take the confession, a staple of reality TV shows.

“Who is behind the camera can make a big difference,” Williams said when it comes to how reality contestants reveal tactics, frustrations or emotion on camera.

Another example is a reality show like Intervention Canada, which often left addicts that hit rock bottom, and Slice audiences, in tears.

For Williams, filming Intervention Canada called for more than moving the camera closer or further from the main subject of each episode, depending on their emotional intensity.

If anything, who is in the room with the subject of an intervention, and whether they are men or women, determined how and when tears would flow.

Williams told Playback Daily that the push to gender parity in Canadian media should ultimately leave audiences no longer caring whether a man or woman is reading the news or playing a lead role in a primetime show. And Williams argued the industry should never just stand pat owing to gains by women over the last generation.

“There’s a risk in all this is that we all get complacent,” she said.

Instead, women in Canadian media should never believe it inevitable that their rise up the corporate ladder will slow, and even stop, because they don’t share with men a sense of entitlement.

“It’s the way it is now. It’s not the way it needs to be,” Williams said.