Television has notoriously been a white male-dominated industry.
This is especially true of the factual genre, which is where I work. There has been a move to change this but we have huge strides to reach a more equal footing for women. As recently reported only a handful of companies pay women the same as men. It is 2018. It is time for a change.
As a working class white woman on the diversity form at each company I only ever get to tick ‘white British’ which puts me in the same category as a wealthy, top tier educated woman in the industry – we do happen to share the same skin colour and ancestral origin but our life experiences and natural networking opportunities are poles apart.
“They say all good novelists write about what they know – I think the same is applicable for the moving image. I always pose the question, how is it right to have majority middle class people making television for a predominately working class audience?”
I have been on the back foot since my first job in current affairs in 2002. I pretended I was ‘posher’ than I was, faked an inside knowledge of their highbrow cultural references that only those with an Oxbridge or private education behind them could know. What I failed to value at the time is my knowledge of all the things that their top tier education couldn’t teach them, the nuances of being working class, the personalities that may seem abrasive but are often a front to prevent humiliation in an environment in which they felt uncomfortable. A situation I know well.
The Edinburgh TV Festival Ones to Watch Scheme enabled me to network with both industry professionals senior to me and equally and just as importantly with peers at my level, allowing a natural support network to be formed. This can not be underestimated. The festival also runs a talent scheme called The Network every August, to help people with no TV experience who want to get their foot in the door. Get through the application process and you’ll earn four days of masterclasses, training and networking sessions with top TV makers.
We need to change the culture of representation both on and off screen to inspire the next generation of creators. Television often relies on extremes. The extreme stories of those on benefits or those in the top echelons of society but I would argue there is room to tell the stories of those who live a middle of the road life not with parents on benefits but with parents with little money and managing to get by. Where are our stories? I saw very few people on the screen growing up that reflected where I came from. You then either had to completely break the mould – as one peer in school said ‘ you think you’re something you ain’t’ or you knew your place and stayed within the confines of what your parents had done before you. We need to inspire the next generation, I want the ‘me’ of the future to see women like me working in the factual television industry and to see their stories told on screen. Only then will we see an overall change.
My advice to new talent would be network as much as you can, join the Facebook groups, go to drinks events advertised by employers and get your face seen, apply to talent schemes and make sure you are proactive. In a highly competitive industry standing out from the crowd and confidence are two key features that make you employable. To all those from a working class background, know that your experiences are just as valid as anyone else’s and perhaps more so in reflecting society. Find a mentor and ask those around you for advice, be brave and remember your story is important and you need to tell it.
About the author
Jemma Gander is an experienced self-shooting Producer and Director with experience of setting up shoots and filming both in the UK and abroad. She has a background in observational documentary and journalism.