Background and context

Leadership and management in the creative industries has been a matter of some concern in recent years. In the UK, a succession of challenges from Covid-19 to economic slow-down, high-profile instances of bullying to a quiet leeching away of talent (especially diverse and experienced talent) from these industries has raised awareness of the need for leadership that is robust, creative and compassionate. Diversity remains a concern across the creative and cultural sectors, but most particularly in the critical area of leadership – where, notwithstanding the predominantly female profile of new entrants in many industry roles, women remain woefully under-represented in leadership positions.

In July 2023, Variety reported a raft of women, and particularly women of colour, exiting leadership positions in the UK (Ravindran, 2023), as well as in Hollywood (Davis, 2023), while in September, The Media Leader critiqued the gender ageism that, it claimed, is ‘killing women’s careers’ and thus depriving the UK industries of both leadership and innovation (Kemp, 2023). The UK and US media are not unique in this respect, with similar concerns being raised in recent years across creative industries, and in countries as diverse as New Zealand (Molloy and Larner, 2013), Catalonia (Barrios & Villarroya, 2022) and Malaysia (Kamalul Ariffin & Ibrahim, 2022).

Women and Leadership in the Creative Industries

This symposium will address women’s leadership in the creative industries, taking into account the very broad definition of the term in an industrial ecosystem characterised by its dependence on freelance workers and micro-businesses alongside more traditional institutions. Its scope will encompass routes into leadership and associated barriers as well as concepts of creative entrepreneurial, as well as institutional leadership. The symposium will adopt an inclusive perspective on ‘leadership’ recognising that this is not limited to hierarchical role (Dodd, 2012) but is subject to many definitions. The organisers are also interested in the experiences of women who do not yet identify as ‘leaders’ but who form part of an emerging pipeline, negotiating barriers along the way.

Research into women in leadership positions across the wider economy has highlighted several factors that appear to disrupt the careers and prospects of female leaders, contributing to vertical as well as hierarchical segregation. Acker’s (1990,1998) work has been widely used to explore how organisations in themselves are gendered with systems and practices that favour an ideal worker as ‘unencumbered with caring responsibilities and ready to devote his life to the job’ (Acker, 2006, p. 69). The gendered nature of organisations is built upon processes which allocate resources along various lines of inequality. Such ideal worker prototypes can be exacerbated within creative industries which is characterised by casualised labour, creating increased competition for scarce resources (Scharff, 2016) and unsocial working hours (Banks & Milestone, 2011). Furthermore, progression within the creative industries relies on relevant social capital and networking practices which disadvantage women (Gill, 2002; Eikhof & Warhurst, 2013). Such contextual factors form part of the systemic barriers to advancing women’s careers within the creative industries – an area which requires further analysis.

Turning from the organisational context to the experiences of women traversing these barriers, while the ‘glass ceiling’ has most decidedly cracked since Marilyn Loden coined the phrase over 40 years ago, female leaders continue to be faced by additional challenges compared with their male peers. Eagly and Carli’s notion of the ‘leadership labyrinth (2007) and the perils of the ‘glass cliff’ as described by Ryan et al (2007) outline some of the particular obstacles encountered by women aspiring to or attaining leadership positions. These include receiving more limited opportunities, compared to their male counterparts, as well as negotiating career breaks and caring responsibilities. Indeed, the impact of the motherhood penalty, in particular, on women’s careers has recently been highlighted by the Nobel prize-winning work of the economist Claudia Goldin (Elsesser 2023).

Notwithstanding the socially progressive values so often espoused, or at least projected, by the creative industries, employment conditions and hiring decisions are frequently regressive – chiefly as a result of a lack of regulation, a notable informality in business relationships, and a tendency to uncritically lionise the ‘creative genius’ which is often seen as driving both reputation and profit in creative organisations. Leadership, moreover, often manifests in different, more flexible ways than more formally hierarchical working environments, with creative leadership and organisational leadership not necessarily aligned. Given these conditions, the creative industries present some very particular opportunities and challenges for female leaders, besides a nuanced perspective on those encountered more generally across the wider economy.

This symposium is designed to bring together from a range of disciplines including, but not limited to, media industries and production studies, business and management studies, organisational psychology and sociology. It is our hope that by sharing diverse perspectives on women and leadership in the creative industries, participants will make new discoveries, form new, inter-disciplinary alliances and open up this under-explored topic to a wider audience – including stakeholders in the industries themselves.  With these aims in mind, the organisers propose a special issue in a relevant journal showcasing the work of contributors.

It will be an in-person event at BU on Thursday 12 and Friday 13 September 2024, however there will be an opportunity to present remotely at an online pre-symposium panel on Tuesday 10 September. Please indicate in your submission if you would prefer to present online.

Please submit a 400-500 words abstract, accompanied by a biography of up to 150 words via this form by midnight GMT on February 29 2024. We aim to communicate decisions by April 1 2024. Please direct any queries to Christa van Raalte, Associate Professor of Film & Television at BU

Find out more: