Women on Television Have Gotten More Racially and Ethnically Diverse, According to a New Study

By Katie Kilkenny ,

The 2016–17 broadcast television season saw historically high percentages of black and Asian speaking female characters, according to a study that has tracked female representation on television for 20 years.

In the latest "Boxed In" study, from the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film at San Diego State University, author Martha Lauzen finds that 21 percent of female characters in broadcast network programs were black, and 7 percent were Asian in 2016–17. Both figures are higher than all previous years studied. Across all platforms—broadcast as well as cable and streaming channels—black, Asian, and Latino female characters saw rises in representation from the 2015–16 season: Black characters rose 3 percent, Asian characters 2 percent, and Latino characters 1 percent from the previous year.

Despite these recent successes, broadcast shows are still lagging behind on their inclusion of Latino female characters: Latinas comprised 5 percent of speaking roles in broadcast, the same as the previous year. (If all goes well, CBS's recent pledge to hire more Latino talent may improve the numbers in years to come.)

The study also found that, on shows with at least one female creator, women accounted for 51 percent of major characters, as opposed to 38 percent on shows with all-male creators. Shows with at least one female creator also entailed "substantially higher percentages" of women in behind-the-scenes roles like writers, the study states.

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