In the first of a new series, Kate Kinninmont MBE, Chief Executive of Women in Film and TV, talks about her career, the TV industry and diversity.
1. How did you get into the TV industry?
Via radio. I was working in Adult Education and promoting so many community initiatives to a BBC Radio consumer affairs progamme that they asked me to join the department as a researcher. From there I became a producer, then moved to TV as, successively, Director, Producer and Executive Producer.
2. What keeps you in this industry – what do you love about it / your job?
We call them creative industries – and they are! Every aspect of production is stimulating, challenging and constantly changing. Working in television took me all over the world and allowed me to meet and work with an amazing variety of fascinating people from the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko to an Aboriginal tribe of hunter-gatherers in the Malaysian rainforest. Not bad for a wee girl from a council house in Glasgow! Now that I’m CEO of Women in Film and Television, I have an overview of the whole industry and its issues – whether it’s the impact of casualisation, the gender pay gap, or onscreen problems of diversity and ageism. There’s a lot to do!
3. What has had the biggest impact on UK broadcasting in the last ten years?
Change has been accelerating for the last thirty years, but the growth in the number of channels has led to a salami-slicing of available resources. Barriers to entry are down but the exploitation of young people as interns is up – which is shameful in itself, and also reduces diversity at the entry point. Technological change is unstoppable and the way media is consumed is changing with tremendous speed. We just have to keep figuring out how to adapt – and refuse to sacrifice basic editorial and ethical standards.
4. Are there any milestones or moments you think helped create real change in terms of diversity?
There are so many: from Miriam O’Reilly winning her discrimination case against the BBC to Lenny Henry (now Sir Lenny Henry!) confronting the industry with its exclusion of Black and Asian people. Directors UK’s report on the employment of women TV directors, shocked many of the broadcasters into taking positive action, and the Expert Women campaign, founded on Professor Lis Howell’s research on women in factual programming, picked up by Broadcast where individual programmes were named and shamed, and as a result the BBC Academy set up media training for women experts.
Some of the milestones are changes in wider society – gay marriage, for example, or the move towards gender pay transparency. Our industry is constantly calibrating itself in line with changes in society – and, of course, in turn, it impacts on that society. I’m greatly looking forward to the results of the BAFTA/Skillset research on career paths, and what it may reveal about class.
5. What do you think is the most significant thing your company has done to advance diversity, or what will you do next?
Women in Film and Television was set up in 1990 to fight for equality of opportunity for women in film and TV. Things have become better over the years: we have more women in senior posts eg executive producers, heads of department, commissioners, channel controllers. However, equal opportunities are still shocking in onscreen representation as well as offscreen in areas such as directing, writing and cinematography.
It’s a constant war of attrition. We set out to draw attention to the inequities in opportunity through lobbying and campaigning. In October last year, we asked BFI to partner with us to bring The Geena Davis Symposium to London. Geena set up the Geena Davis Institute to research, monitor and campaign for gender equality onscreen. Davis drew particular attention to the representation of women and girls in children’s programming where male characters out-number females three-to-one. Knowledge is power. I do believe that until we have hard facts, it is difficult to motivate change. We collect data from university and industry research and get it out to the industry via our website, newsletter, and our 35k+ twitter followers.
The most significant initiative I’ve introduced in my time as CEO, is undoubtedly our mid-career mentoring scheme. This is produced by the amazing Nicola Lees, and the results have been astonishing.
We offer women opportunities through information/education, networking and mentoring; we promote their work, and we celebrate their achievements at our prestigious annual awards lunch.
Among our current projects is a scheme to train more women to appear as ‘experts’ on screen – currently there are twice as many men as women on our screens, whether in drama or in current affairs.
6. What are you watching at the moment?
I met Idris Elba at the House of Commons recently, so I’ve been revisiting all of Luther. Great stuff. I’ve just finished viewing more than 60 films for the BAFTA voting – favourites included Spotlight, Room and Beasts of No Nation. Currently I’m working my way through more than a dozen documentaries for a television judging panel I’m on. The sheer talent on display in these diverse, moving and evocative works makes me feel I’m still in the right industry!
7. What word or phrase do you most use?