Continuing the theme on women who inspire, I want to explore gender diversity in particular challenges affecting women in the TV industry. So I decided to reach out to an old friend who is now working in the exciting and somewhat challenging, sector. We discuss topics and challenges facing not only women but those from ethnic minority backgrounds. We explore some of her own personal inspirations and tips for anyone looking to work in similar creative industries.
With a passion for exploring and documenting the lives and struggles of everyday people – Laurél Alleyne is an Assistant Producer in Factual and Factual Entertainment Documentaries. Laurél is also passionate about mental health and feminist issues, in particular issues related to people of colour. As well as building her career in the TV industry, Laurél is also very creative and is a keen amateur photographer. Check out her Instagram at @MissLouJasmine
You’re working in the TV industry; how did you get into that?
LA: I actually always wanted to get into Film and didn’t really think about TV seriously, until I left university – mainly because I didn’t have a choice. Film was almost near impossible to get into. And at the time I didn’t have a driving license or any contacts in the film industry.
The film industry in Britain is very much reserved for white men – sons of camera men, directors etc. So I felt I had no hope. I stumbled upon an ad for internships with the Mama Youth Project, which helps ethnic minorities under the age of 25 break into the TV industry. There, I worked on a show for The Community Channel on Sky and learnt exactly what it meant to work on a real broadcast production and not just a university project!
So tell me a little about your day-to-day role…
LA: My role really does vary, and varies even more so depending on the type of gig I’m working on. Everyone on the editorial side are mainly freelancers, so you work on a number of projects a year, but you’ll mostly be exclusive to one project at one time.
It’s hard to give exact details about what my day to day entails because it literally depends on the type of Assistant Producer role I’m doing. I could be doing anything from a Shooting Assistant Producer to a Casting Assistant Producer to just a straight up Assistant Producer, or all three! Each are slightly different, but I guess my main focus is always on the stories and the contributors. Always focusing on what the narrative is, what are the main editorial points we’re trying to achieve and do we have the stories from the contributors to achieve this.
Right at the start of my career, someone said to me; “prepare to be broke for the next 5 years!”.
I’ve worked a lot with sensitive contributors (substance abusers, domestic violence victims, inmates and those suffering from mental health issues) so a lot of the time my role is to build up a relationship with the contributors; make them feel comfortable and listen to their concerns (if any) when it comes to the filming, whilst still always maintaining an editorial mind and understanding where the story could go, as well as representing the heart of the story.
What’s the best piece of professional advice you have received, how did you follow it?
LA: Right at the start of my career, someone said to me; “prepare to be broke for the next 5 years!”.
If you’re happy for this struggle, keep going. If not, get out now and find something else to do. I would 100% pass that on to anyone new starting up because it always makes you question whether or not working in such a hard industry is something you really and truly want to do. For so long, your pay is low and you work very unsociable hours.
To work in TV you have to love it, the minute that love starts to wane, you’ll find it very difficult.
It was International Women’s Day last month, thinking about women who inspire, who has been your personal inspiration and why?
LA: I suppose it will ultimately be a close call between my Mum to Nina Simone to Maya Angelou. These three women have been ever present in my life since I was very young.
My mum is one of the most loving and strong-willed women I know and every bit of fight I have in me, is from her. For me, she encapsulates how a woman can be incredibly strong and fierce, but incredibly tender and loving. For a black British woman in Britain, this is incredibly necessary – especially in the creative industries where you are constantly pigeon-holed and likened to people who have absolutely nothing in common with you apart from the colour of your skin. Stereotypes are very real and there is a constant battle to dispel them in this industry.
I’ve listened to Nina Simone from a very young age and her pain and struggle is always something that fascinated me. As for Maya Angelou, she has been an inspiration to me for the way she always maintained grace, reason and absolute intellect. Her poems and stories are beautifully painful and again, her struggle has always fascinated because it’s been so far from my life.
My views have been pushed to the side and whenever I’ve fought to be heard, I’ve been described as ‘feisty’ or ‘difficult’. So it’s about always finding the balance between getting your voice heard, but not appearing ‘difficult’ – something men never have to do.
There are particular gender equality issues within certain industries, including TV, film, media, etc. What do you think the barriers facing women in these industries are? Do you feel there are additional challenges for women of colour?
LA: There are plenty of women in the TV industry, but we don’t move up nearly as quickly as our male colleagues do. From speaking to my female friends, I would say that this is because we are self deprecating. We live in a society that puts barriers on what females should and shouldn’t do and that definitely translates in this industry. For example, a male runner/researcher is more like to blag their way up then a female as we are more scared of not doing a good job and therefore having our reputation tarnished.
For freelancers in TV, your reputation is everything so it’s about doing as best a job as you can. I’ve experienced many times when my voice is literally silenced because a male colleague has decided that another male colleagues voice should be heard over mine. My views have been pushed to the side and whenever I’ve fought to be heard, I’ve been described as ‘feisty’ or ‘difficult’. So it’s about always finding the balance between getting your voice heard, but not appearing ‘difficult’ – something men never have to do.
Also, it has to be said that for a woman of colour it is even harder as you are constantly trying to battle the stereotypes, even when they do not apply to you in any way. You don’t want to be ‘too loud’ for fear of perpetuating the ‘loud black girl’ stereotype so you find yourself being overly nice and overly polite and it becomes a tiring act. Why am I not just able to be who I am and do a great job without it affecting people’s views on me? Again, because I freelance, I have to constantly be aware of this, which can become exhausting.
There’s been a negative backlash to the word ‘feminist’ and what it means to be a feminist, how would you describe a feminist?
LA: A feminist is someone who believes in the crazy idea that women are equal to men and should be treated so in every aspect of their life. Anyone who views the term negative is either uneducated and ignorant or a misogynist in my book.
What would you advise younger people who are in the early stages of their professional life?
LA: I would say do as much research into that field as possible. Speak to as many people in that industry as you can so you can really understand what it means to work in that industry.
I would also say, there is no rush! Live a bit of your life first or do some combined. But there is no need to be at the top of your game by 25. Life experience really is invaluable, especially when dealing with people in the work place.
It was great to speak to Laurél on her own personal challenges as well as those generally affecting women in the TV industry. And whilst it highlights that there are still gender equality issues in the industry, there are so many possibilities for individuals to keep pursuing their goals and overcome the barriers presented to them.
I fear that this is a conversation we will be having for a while yet. But the day the conversation dies, is the day that gender equality lives.
Are you a woman in a male dominated industry? What are the challenges that face you and how have you overcome them? Comment below or tweet me at @arcasela