Kaitlyn Yang knows it’s rare for women to work in visual effects but wanted to find out just how much company she has. She devised an informal survey earlier this year, and painstakingly searched 24,000 LinkedIn entries for female visual effects supervisors in North America. Her tally: 30. “So you do the maths,” she says of the tiny percentage that it represents. Her findings tally with in-depth research showing women are under-represented in behind-the-camera positions, including writing, directing and producing, despite recent progress. A study of the 250 top-grossing films in 2019 by San Diego State University’s Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that women comprise six per cent of visual effects supervisors, five per cent of cinematographers and 19 per cent of writers. A centre report on last season’s TV shows found similar patterns. Yang, whose perseverance led to the creation of her own firm, Alpha Studios, is among those succeeding in Hollywood. That is true as well of Layne Eskridge, a former Netflix and Apple TV executive who just launched POV Entertainment; writer Gladys Rodriguez, whose credits include Sons of Anarchy and Vida ; and Sandra Valde-Hansen, cinematographer for more than a dozen independent films. The four share a key credit: each had an industry internship through the Television Academy Foundation, the charitable arm of the academy that administers the prime-time Emmy Awards. For Valde-Hansen, the internship provided the experience of working alongside veteran cinematographer Alan Caso, who had been part of the acclaimed series Six Feet Under . How gender inequality in film and entertainment isn’t just a Hollywood problem Getting to learn from the man “who created the look of that show, that very cinematic look, I thought, ‘Oh, this is better than getting into college’,” she says. “The internship just opened up so many doors for me.” The programme offers 50 paid, eight-week summer internships on Los Angeles TV productions to college students nationwide. “We couldn’t be prouder to have helped launch the careers of these exceptional women. They are a testament to the foundation’s crucial work,” says Madeline Di Nonno, chair of the foundation’s board of directors. As the one-time interns have progressed in their fields, they’ve gained hard-won insights about Hollywood and the obstacles facing women and people of colour. Yang, who uses a wheelchair because of spinal muscular atrophy, faces other challenges. In recent interviews, the women discussed their experiences and how the industry can evolve. Bias can be subtle, or not. Rodriguez recalled a stretch in which she worked as a writer’s assistant on shows with primarily white male writing staff. Men in jobs comparable to hers were “invited to play ping-pong, but they wouldn’t invite me, or they would invite them to after-work drinks and I wouldn’t get invited”, she says. “I was definitely not part of the boys club, so that excluded me from certain opportunities”, such as developing story ideas. Eskridge has found that older writers can be uncomfortable with an executive who is younger and Black. That appeared to be the case with a sitcom creator she ushered into her office for a first meeting. “Maybe he thought I was an assistant, but when I closed the door and sat down he realised I was Layne,” she recalls. “He was so flustered. And I think we sat there for about two minutes while he tried to gather himself. And then he eventually said he needed to call his agent and that he wasn’t going to take the meeting.” Yang, who became more public-facing after starting her company, found she wasn’t what some expected. It starts at the top, with execs realising they have to do the work to look for writers of colour, hire writers of colour and give people chances. Just like they would take a chance on a white director or a white writer Gladys Rodriguez, whose writing credits include Sons of Anarchy and Vida One man “was very surprised that I attended USC film school, in a way that was almost questioning if my résumé was made up,” she says. “I was like, ‘You want to see my student loans?’”(Women are well-represented at the USC School of Cinematic Arts: this autumn, they’re 56 per cent of students, according to the school.) Valde-Hansen says she owes a debt of gratitude to Florida-based cinematographer Tony Foresta, who took her on as his assistant when nobody else would. “I remember walking into the [equipment] rental houses and they [film crew customers] would literally come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I’ve worked with another woman camera assistant before …’ like I was an alien,” she says. “It was unnerving at times. I was so thankful to have this one person who saw me, unlike anyone else.” After Rodriguez completed her internship, she worked on CBS’ Cold Case , created and produced by Meredith Stiehm. Why there are still so few Chinese female directors “It’s not that she gave me a leg up, more that she saw me and she didn’t dismiss me,” Rodriguez says. It was on the show that she met Veena Sud, a “wonderful writer who became a sort of mentor to me”. “She was the first person that took me aside and said, ‘I’ll read your stuff if you’re writing’,” Rodriguez recalls. “I think Meredith empowered her, and she was giving back to me by empowering me.” A female colleague told Valde-Hansen recently that a director wanted to hire her for a project, but the producer thought the budget was out of her league – although there was a relatively small gap between it and other projects she’d worked on. “This has happened to me. Why? Why is that story happening, when a white man makes a movie for US$500,000, it does really well, and then suddenly he’s handed an US$80 million Marvel movie,” Valde-Hansen says. “That has to change.” Rodriguez says that when studios complain that they cannot find diversity among writers, she has lists at the ready. “It starts at the top, with execs realising they have to do the work to look for writers of colour, hire writers of colour and give people chances,” she says. “Just like they would take a chance on a white director or a white writer.” Eskridge recalls a few times when she was the “highest-ranking person of colour in the building, and I’m not a president or part of the C-suite. That shows you that’s a problem.” Yang wants the industry to think diversity for every aspect of production. “The more down the credits you move, it’s still the same old, same old. And I don’t want to be the first one of the few,” she says.