There are several initiatives aimed at supporting women in media and technology (a list is provided at the end of this article). However, true gender parity is still far from being a given. Female producers and business leaders offer a few potential solutions.
A wind of change seems to be sweeping the audiovisual industry as flagship organizations the likes of the NFB, Telefilm, the SODEC, the CBC and the CMF have announced initiatives and made commitments to increase the contributions of women both in front of and behind the cameras.
The aim is to reverse the tide. It must be said that the findings of many studies led on the role of women in the industry are not very positive.
In Canada, men produce more than 84% of the content developed for television or film. This imbalance continues in front of the cameras: an American study established the gender profile of the characters in the 100 films of 2015 that generated the highest profit levels. Only 31.4% of these characters were portrayed by women.
Source: Inequality in 800 Popular Films
The situation is better among US technology giants: in the case of Google and Facebook, women make up 33% of the workforce.
Finally, in the world of entrepreneurship, women also represent a minority. In Canada, women lead only a fraction of all SMEs: they head 17% of all SMEs counting fewer than 5 employees but only 4% of SMEs employing 100 to 500 people. Moreover, they have access to less start-up capital than their male counterparts.
Sexism on a daily basis
Questioned on what could explain such low percentages, Archita Ghosh, executive producer of E*D Films, and Norma Rossler, President and CFO for Blot Interactive, agree that a sometimes hidden form of sexism is at play.
Examples abound: being mistaken for their partner’s spouse, having clients ignore their answers to technical questions, being spoken to in condescending terms, being the object of derogatory comments on the appearance of women…
“Even the vocabulary is wrong,” explains Ghosh. “Talking about success, you can hear stuff like ‘You always have to be the hot chick in the room so everybody wants you.’”
However, beyond the language, Archita Ghosh deplores the fact that businesswomen do not have sufficient access to capital. This entrepreneur who has been active for the past 25 years believes that “[…] access is limited to women because women have not traditionally built up that [tech start-up] structure. That structure has been built one way: for men, by men. It’s not like I feel I’m inadequate in business, but I don’t meet those criteria.”
She feels that a fundamental link is missing in the chain to support female entrepreneurs: capital to ensure their business growth. “I don’t need 5 or 10 grand and I don’t need a billion, but I do need $100,000,” she explains. “And then we will start changing the mould right there!”
Companies that are led by women need to be supported if the existing culture is to change and if new women are to be attracted to the media and technology sectors: this opinion is shared by several other female entrepreneurs.
“It’s doubly even quadruply important to support female entrepreneurs because that’s what will enable us to take off on new bases, start with a blank canvass, create companies that reflect who we are and deal with subjects and problems that are dear to our hearts,” states Cassie Rheaume, founder of Ladies Learning Code Montreal, during a discussion on women in technology organized by MTL NewTech.
Pamela Alfred, founder of Ask-PAM, adds that the more women get involved in technology, the more they will be comfortable doing so. “I am more inclined to hire a woman and she will be more inclined to work with us because there are already women in the company,” explains Alfred. “It begins with us, we need to make the effort.”
It is also the recognition of women’s contribution to a company that will mark a real turning point toward parity believes Christine Renaud, founder of E-180. “This contribution must be recognized and valued. That’s when women will feel welcomed and listened to.”
And the studies on this are clear. As pointed out in the CMF’s 2017 Trends Report, “focusing on cultural diversity and gender equality means reaching a wider audience, promoting the development of technologies for all, and, ultimately, generating greater profits.”
To do so, Norma Rossler estimates that an effective strategy consists of focusing on the new generation that is arriving on the job market. By giving young women the opportunity to improve their résumé and carve out a place for themselves in the media and technology industries, current employers can contribute to reversing the trend.
Beyond the recent announcements made to increase the contribution of women in the audiovisual sectors, there are several initiatives that support women in the fields of media, technology and entrepreneurship.
Apprenticeship Program for female directors: The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television plans to launch in 2017 a hands-on learning and networking program to support Canada’s female producers.
Breaking Barriers Film Fund: This CBC fund finances English-language feature film projects that are scripted or directed by Canadian women, Aboriginals, members of visible minorities and the disabled.
Women First - Zapruder Films Screenwriting Program: The first edition of this program provided $12,000 to a female scriptwriter for the writing of a screenplay as well as mentorship support.
2XMore: Implemented by Women in View and the Directors Guild of Canada, this initiative links shadowing to directing.
1 K Wave Atlantic: Launched in the Atlantic provinces, this program grants to selected female directors micro-budgets in the amount of $1,000 as well as mentorship support to write and produce feature films.
Business Women in International Trade (BWIT): This program, available from the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS), provides products and services designed to help female entrepreneurs market their activities at an international level.
Fierce Founders Bootcamp: This program is aimed at start-ups that include at least one women among their founders. It provides mentoring as well as financial support and prizes to the winning teams.
Women’s Program: The Status of Women Canada (SWC) Women’s Program provides financial and professional assistance to organizations to carry out projects at the local, regional and national levels in order to improve the status of women.
SheEO: This fund is endowed by the donations of Canadian female entrepreneurs. The capital raised is then redistributed to selected women in the form of interest-free loans.
Supporting women entrepreneurs - BDC: A total of $40 million will be allocated to create a program to support women-led start-up tech firms.
Startup Canada Women Founders Fund: This fund awards $1,000 micro-grants to female entrepreneurs as well as companies led by women.
Fierce Founders Accelerator: This program provides financial and mentorship support to start-ups based in Ontario that include at least one woman among their founders.
>Fonds pour les femmes entrepreneures FQ: Administered by Filaction, this fund has an endowment of $19 million and supports the corporate start-up, growth and acquisition projects of female entrepreneurs in all regions of Québec.
Women’s Enterprise Initiative (WEI) Loan Program: Available in each of the four western provinces, this program provides up to $15,000 in financing to companies that are 50% or more owned and controlled by women.
WiT Mentorship Matching program: This mentorship program based in Waterloo, Ontario provides one-year mentorship opportunities.
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