Tackling the film industry's gender pay gap

The pay gap between men and women in the workplace is acknowledged and beyond debate. In many western countries, men are paid an average of 20% more than their female colleagues. Globally the figure grows to around 30%.

The reasons for the continuing pay gap remain controversial and open to debate. Women are more likely to take time away from work for childcare, thereby affecting their ability to gain experience and progress their careers. This in turn leads to queries as to whether it's reasonable for women to provide the lion's share of child care. Because the argument is ultimately about people's preferences, a completely objective and qualitative analysis is probably impossible.

Nonetheless a pay gap persists, and it is not particularly difficult to find at least anecdotal evidence of direct gender discrimination. Of the women consulted for this article, about 25% reported unambiguous incidents of misogyny on set, almost invariably uncovered via a sympathetic male colleague.

 

Gender discrimination

"I've been fired off a job because I was a woman," says one LA-based director of photography, who, in common with all the contributors to this article, spoke on condition of anonymity: "[The producer] made a couple of comments when he was interviewing me which I thought were a little shady. He said for example: 'I guess, if you're not lying on your resume, then you can handle it.'

"Later," she continues, "I got a call from the producer, and was told that my camera was being cut for budget reasons." But the position was replaced - with a man. Later the producer was heard saying he should have never fired her…

Despite this, it is very difficult, in the main, for producers to exercise direct discrimination in below-the-line positions which are generally either unionised or paid on an equal-rates-for-all basis on smaller, low-budget productions. Rates are generally public in these circumstances and any gender discrimination would be instantly apparent.

One female UK broadcast camera operator with 16 years of experience commented: "I can honestly say I have never noticed a difference in pay between male and female operators. Maybe it's because I started off as staff at [a large broadcaster] and we were on a salary which was determined by experience. We were all on the same salary from the day we started till the day we got made redundant. I have now been freelance for the last four years and again I have never noticed a difference in pay."

 

Negotiating pay

Conversely, in above-the-line roles, or in any role not covered by union agreements where rates are subject to individual negotiation, it is practically impossible to objectively assess whether discrimination is taking place.

"I really am useless at negotiating my rate," admits one female director of photography. "I've started saying to people 'why don't you tell me how much you want to pay me...' When I do have to negotiate my rate I seek advice from my (male) partner who seems to be very good at negotiating and seems to get much better results than me."

Unfortunately, in this specific area, this sort of anecdote is the hardest evidence we're likely to see. "



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