Writers Guild of Canada diversity report says despite steady progress, gaps remain

Anthony Farrell, Marsha Greene and Nile Séguin

A Writers Guild of Canada report says while its members in the TV industry have seen steady progress on diversity issues, gaps still remain.

The organization and its diversity committee have released the first-ever Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Report, which they plan to prepare annually.

It found improvement when it comes to the overall composition of the WGC’s membership and the hiring of diverse writers.

The report says the percentage of new guild members self-identifying as diverse has risen steadily, from 14 per cent in 2016 to 33 per cent in 2019.

And 26 per cent of working writers on Canadian TV series under WGC jurisdiction identified as diverse in 2019, compared to 16 per cent in 2016.

However, in 2019, Indigenous screenwriters represented just four per cent of working writers in Canada, with very few in senior level positions.

And while Black writers represented eight per cent of those working in TV in 2019, they’re not all necessarily getting the big spotlight for their work, earning only five per cent of writing credits in live action.

The report is based on data from 280 live-action and animated series that were contracted under the WGC’s jurisdiction between 2016 and 2019. It used the following groups in its definition of diversity: Indigenous, Black, people of colour, LGBTQ2S, and people living with disabilities.

The guild examined an average of 70 series per year and also collected data through its internal database, interviews with Canadian showrunners and publicly available industry data.

In general, the representation of different racialized groups working as writers on TV remains lower than what’s reflected in the overall population of Canada and urban population centres, says the report released Thursday.

Representation of East Asian and South Asian writers is particularly low when compared to general population numbers, it adds.

There was a rise in overall writing credits earned by those from under-represented communities from 2017 to 2019.

But credits for members of the LGBTQ2S community declined, from 9.6 per cent in 2017 to 8.6 per cent in 2019. And credits for persons living with disabilities went from zero per cent in 2017 to just 0.7 per cent in 2019.

The report also says “writers from under-represented communities are more likely to receive mid- and low-level credits within writers’ rooms. Credits for Indigenous writers and writers living with disabilities are sparse at every level.”

When it comes to gender, the share of women working on Canadian TV is at 50.1 per cent, on par with the share of men at 49.6 per cent. It’s a similar trend between diverse women (13.5 per cent) and men (12.4 per cent).

The number of people living with disabilities is low across all categories, including WGC membership of just 0.3 per cent.

The overall findings are compounded by the fact that there is “considerably less work for Canadian resident screenwriters,” as the industry moves to shorter episode orders written y smaller writers’ rooms, says the report.

“This development affects the entire screenwriting community in Canada, but particularly new and diverse writers who face systemic barriers,” it adds.