Kelly Martin: 'Enlightened' creative industries not so when it comes to gender bias

Not even the enlightened creative industries are immune to gender bias
Kelly Martin is the chief executive of South Pacific Pictures and president of Women in Film & Television NZ.
Kelly Martin is the chief executive of South Pacific Pictures and president of Women in Film & Television NZ.

An interesting debate raged earlier this month around gender bias in the advertising industry following remarks made by Kevin Roberts, who asserted that gender discrimination wasn't an issue in advertising.

Disappointing comments from Roberts', who has apologised for his 'fast fail' error in judgement, but the fracas has been a savoury reminder that no industry is immune to gender bias. Not even the enlightened creative industries.

While we may struggle to accept it, gender pay gaps and a woeful lack of female leaders are issues that permeate our entire workforce. The battles we believed our grannies had fought and won, and taken to their graves, are far from dead and buried.

As the Chief Executive of South Pacific Pictures, the company behind Shortland Street and other shows like Westside, and the President of Women in Film & Television (WIFT), I have a mandate to build a strong female talent pipeline in our own industry.

In addition to head office staff, we employ a stable of actors, writers, producers, directors and production crews. With such a broad cross section of skills and opportunities, one would assume diverse representation, but in some areas, this has not been the case.

Two years ago I was shocked to realise that out of 42 hours of drama we had produced, only three of those hours had been produced by a woman and only two had been directed by a woman.

Two years ago I was shocked to realise that out of 42 hours of drama we had produced, only three of those hours had been produced by a woman and only two had been directed by a woman. Even worse, it was the same woman who had done both. Since then we've been working hard to try and change these statistics and we are making good progress. But there is a long way to go and we have to be constantly mindful that this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

People have asked why this matters so much and I think the answer is clear. It matters because unless we have strong women behind the cameras, then our portrayal of women on screens will always be skewed. As creators of drama for New Zealand's ever diversifying audiences, we need to remember that representation is important. It's funny that having more women on a cast or crew is considered 'diversity,' but when you consider women make up over half of the population, increasing the number of women in key roles is an important part of ensuring we are representing our audiences.

As creators of drama for New Zealand's ever diversifying audiences, we need to remember that representation is important.

This can become a very sensitive topic when taking our male colleagues into account, who do outstanding work and always have. But it's been quite a closed shop for a long time, in particular around directing. There have been limited opportunities, so when you add the idea of introducing fresh female directors into the mix, an understandable fear factor sets in.

But this isn't about cannibalising opportunities in the industry, it's about creating more and with additional funding from the New Zealand Screen Production Grant, there should be even more impetus to do this.

More importantly, it's about succession planning and ensuring a diverse range of people are coming through.

We are encouraging women to consider roles outside of the norm and this stimulus is only going to grow.

That has been my ambition at South Pacific Pictures and WIFT is extremely active here too. There is a raft of training and workshops available to its members, with a focus on the male-dominated roles in our industry such as camera operators and sound recordists. We are encouraging women to consider roles outside of the norm and this stimulus is only going to grow.

I'm proud of the inroads our industry has made. Three of the four major production houses in New Zealand are led by women. The majority of my management team are women, we are harnessing a fresh injection of female directors and Shortland Street is now led by its third female producer in the history of New Zealand's longest running drama.

We monitor our business, we are focused on evaluating pay and rewards and we engage best practice, just as any ethical and fair organisation should do.

Whether we're making television or creating ad campaigns, the creative industries can't afford to set ourselves aside from this issue and assume that the more traditional jobs, like law and finance, will always accept the flack for these poor track records.

The YWCA Equal Pay Awards is testament to this. A fantastic initiative launched by the YWCA Auckland, the Awards are working hard to seek out the fair-minded, ethical businesses of New Zealand who are putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to wage equality and gender diversity.

Among the winners over the last two years have been banks and law firms, working hard to change the tide for their female staff. If these corporate giants can come this far to affect positive change, so can we. This is a great time to ensure the creative industries are an active and vocal part of this movement too.

Entries for the YWCA Equal Pay Awards are open until Friday, 30th September. For more information, visit www.ywcaequalpay.org.nz.

- NZ Herald

Kelly Martin is the CEO of South Pacific Pictures and President of Women in Film & Television NZ

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