As part of our ongoing series of articles featuring BAFTA members with whom we work closely throughout the year, Louise Tutt, deputy editor of Screendaily and Screen International, spoke with the chairs of four BAFTA committees – Sara Putt (Television Committee chair and deputy chair of BAFTA), Anna Higgs (Film Committee chair), Tara Saunders (Games Committee chair) and Ade Rawcliffe (Learning, Inclusion and Talent Committee chair) – to discuss their experiences as women in the creative sector ahead of this year's International Women's Day.
How are four of BAFTA's leading lights blazing a trail in their respective industries while juggling caring responsibilities, the pay gap and systemic biases?
Sara Putt, Anna Higgs and Tara Saunders join Ade Rawcliffe to share stories on handling salary negotiations, forging work-life balances and learning the secret is often to just ask for what you want.
Louise Tutt: Tara, you are co-studio head of PlayStation London Studio. How did you secure your first job in the games sector?
I got offered a job at the BBC and PlayStation on the same day. I was an animator and at that point I didn’t care what I animated. I just wanted to animate. But when I stepped into a gaming studio, that was my place. It was very different to what I saw at the BBC, where people were wearing headphones, working on a shot on a computer, very kind of locked in and focused. When I walked into PlayStation, people were hopping around desks, there was collaboration going on. I’m at the same studio I joined 23 years ago. Most roles in games are permanent positions. You work together, you stay together, you make a game together.
Ade, what was your path into the industry?
I started off in quite a traditional way by doing work experience. I was in the first and only women-only gameshow on Channel 4 called Sabotage. And I saw that contestant research was what I wanted to do. I couldn’t believe people got paid for doing that.
The production company paid me for a week’s work experience. I then moved to Granada in Manchester and was a runner on Stars In Their Eyes. I worked my way to all the shows people my age were working on like The Big Breakfast and Big Brother and then from producing into a diversity and inclusion job at Channel 4. I didn't really know what the job was when I was asked to apply for it. But it spoke to all the things that I love doing. I love developing talent, and love giving people opportunities. And now I find myself at ITV [as director of diversity and inclusion].
Sara, what was your first job in the industry?
I started in BBC Radio in a very low-grade clerical job and sort of pottered around the industry. I worked for an actor's agent, I worked in production. I used to use a lot of crew from a booking service. I got to know the woman who ran it and she asked me if I'd like to come in and manage the business. I said, "That sounds great. But actually I'd like to set up an agency." It's the one piece of marketing nous I've ever had in my life.
18 months later, I bought the company at the age of 25. Ignorance is bliss! I went and found a couple of investors who were prepared to give me a bit of money to do it with and I look back on it and it was madness. We didn't make any money for a long time. And I didn't know any rules about agenting. So I sort of made them all up. Now Sara Putt Associates has about 250 clients, and we have our own training scheme and our own foundation. And I love that company. I have a team of 10, all women. We keep trying to employ men, but strangely, the women are often better. Therefore we can create those rules around flexible working, around remote working, around how we want that company to look.
Anna, you’ve worked as an independent producer and had roles at Film4, Nowness and Meta. How did you start?
I grew up in a council flat in a tower block in Birmingham. A local community arts company came to my school and gave us video cameras. I convinced them to let me do work experience and I worked for them all the way through my university degree.
But when I left university I couldn't afford to go and work in the film industry or in telly. I had no family money, no safety net. I ended up going to work for a management consultancy but treated it like a paid MBA. I did a graduate programme with them and became part of their interactive design group. Then I started to think how I could get back into film. A friend of a friend of a friend said you should go to the National Film and Television School. I said, "What's that?" She said, "It's essentially the old boys’ network of film and telly."
I scraped and begged and borrowed. [Producer and then-head of the NFTS] Nik Powell got me an extra scholarship and I went to the NFTS to do producing.
I became an independent producer, but I got the opportunity to go to work at Film4 and become a commissioner. I got to see the much bigger stretch of the whole of the UK film industry. That was my springboard into where I am now.
How do you all feel having children or caring for family members has impacted, is perhaps still impacting, your career?
Tara: I don't have kids but I often think, would my career be any different if I had? Now, as a leader in the studio, I don't want the women in my studio to feel they have to leave the industry to have children or struggle to come back. It can be a really disruptive phase. You may be getting to the peak of your career, you've got this huge momentum, you have a baby, and then you have time out. I’m really conscious of the confidence knock and how you get back into it. Flexible working is probably helping women to make that transition back easier.
Is the games sector more nine-to-five than film and TV?
Tara: It's not a nine to five industry. Anything that involves creativity means people are often at their most creative at weird hours of the day. It’s about getting your best moments. We try to keep a core hours, a 10 to 4, but allow people to slip either side of that. Some of our team are morning people and some of our team really are not.
But there is a challenge around managing the individual passion of someone and the hours that they put in. I'm guilty of that, too. I'm not the best example sometimes to my team, because I'm very passionate about what I do at work but also passionate about [my work at] BAFTA. I've got to find that time from somewhere and quite often that means I do stretch myself.
Anna, you have two young children. How has being a parent impacted your career? If it has?
Anna: Oh, it definitely has. I've become more I'm interested in being honest about my experiences because the worst thing is when women feel alone in those experiences.
All industries are leaving billions of pounds on the table by not properly engaging with and embracing different patterns of working, equal pay, all sorts of things that mean you lose talent. But the conversations I'm having now are still with fairly traditional-thinking, senior male executives who just don't see that bigger picture. And if they did, they'd get a lot more out of all of their teams.
How do I personally juggle it? With great difficulty, And I've chosen to be much more radically candid about that. Sometime a BAFTA board meeting means I don't do the school run. It means I don't do bedtime. However, I tell myself not to feel guilty because my kids are with their dad. But it's tough. And I'm fairly lucky in that I was more senior by the time I had kids. I got to set a bit more of the rules around how I did things.
Tara: I’m at the age where it's more about menopause. There needs to be an understanding that women face very specific issues, including quite common health issues like endometriosis. Through life we have medical issues because we do have periods, we do give birth to babies.
I’m starting to see there's a bit more understanding because women are talking about it. It's opening the conversation and in a way that says it’s not our problem to solve. We need you to understand the issue and support us.
Sara: In the freelance population our stats at entry level in terms of diversity in a very intersectional way are pretty good now. But 10 years down the line, we're losing a lot of women. There are things like job sharing, but there's still a long way to go in terms of what people consider acceptable.
And there is the issue of the cost of childcare and the location of childcare. I have a son, he’s 27 now, and one of the major reasons I felt able to try and get pregnant all those years ago was because there was a creche at Shepperton Studios. And that, with a combination of my parents, made it possible.
In our company now we have one member of the team who was able to spend the last three months of her mother's life with her mum. We asked everybody the thing they were most proud of. They all said enabling that team member to do that, picking up a bit of slack for her.
Ade, how have you navigated children and career?
Ade: I think I adapted my career because I knew I wanted to have children. I went to work at the BBC full-time, which I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. It was the first day of my new job that I found out I was pregnant. I was working in BBC Sport and I had to pretend I wasn't pregnant for a very long time. It got to the stage where I was going to have to go to Ethiopia to film and I needed to have a yellow fever jab. And they wouldn't give it to me because I was pregnant. And I was contemplating having this yellow fever jab. My husband said to me, "Have you lost your mind?"
My children went to the BBC nursery. You dropped your children off at work and then you go to your office, and you'd go and see them at lunchtime. It doesn’t exist any more.
Sara: That’s something I don’t understand. Why in 2023 are there not creches in studios? Or at the BBC? It’s bonkers.
Anna: Charlotte Riley has brought it back at Leavesden, the Wonder Works nursery.
Sara: And in the freelance world, there is still a huge gender pay gap issue, exacerbated by the fact that an awful lot of the predominantly female roles have historically been less well paid. Script supervisors are paid way less than cinematographers. One's very female dominated, one is very male dominated. But even within the same roles, there is evidence of a pay gap.
Ade and Tara, do you look back and think you played down your so-called feminine traits in the early days?
Tara: I was quite tough in those early days. Now there's an encouragement to share your feelings at my studio. If something has annoyed or frustrated you, or if you're upset about something that has happened at home you can bring those feelings into work and your team will support you. That's happened through a growth of women in the industry.
I’ll blub in front of the next person. I'll talk about the fact I'm not feeling very good today as I’ve got my period. I don't care who's in the room. To openly talk about it means that you're just setting a level playing field and that’s how I operate now.
Ade: When I started out it was a hyper competitive environment. When I was working on The Big Breakfast we would sleep on the sofa at night and we’d get up at five in the morning to do the show. One of the things I really admire about the younger generation is they challenge much more. They would never do that! I look back at my own behaviour and wish I had stood up for things sooner.
Anna, you are very forthright and assertive. How have you learned those skills?
Anna: I have learned to stop code switching. I semi-consciously lost my Birmingham accent because people would judge me. I purposely didn't talk about my background because I could pass as quite posh and clever. The effort that takes meant I was probably less forthright than I could have been.
A breakthrough came when I was at Channel 4. I knew I wasn't being equitably paid. I swallowed my pride and shame and terror and asked a male colleague what they were paid. To his credit, he told me. And it was wildly different. I could then go with data and remove the passion and emotion and subjectivity from the conversation. I may have paved the way for my departure from that team by being that forthright. But I look back and I'm very proud of that.
I then negotiated super hard going into my next job which was the creative director at Nowness. I knew what I was worth.
Tara: That’s a very good point and it’s one of the things I regret not doing before. I was in the company for a long time and you up your worth by moving around. I made the mistake of not going out and knowing my worth and I did that quite late. That gave me my bargaining stick that I didn’t know I needed.
Did you take in notes? Did you practice?
Anna: I wrote an email as that allowed them to sit with it. I also gave a reasoning. You have to think about the picture beyond "I just want more money." What's the value I add?
Finally, what do you wish you had known earlier that you would advise younger women now?
Ade: Women, people from underrepresented groups, don't ask for opportunities enough. I've often sat there and gone, "Why aren't I this? Why aren’t I that?" And I haven't asked for it. Often the people that ask, get. If the answer's no, ask "what do I need to do to get there?"
Tara: I second that. I am where I am because I took opportunities that were never going to come and be presented to me. I thought, "those problems over there need fixing and I think I can fix them. I'm going to ask to do that."
Sara: Women so often deselect. If there are 10 criteria in a job description and they fulfil eight of them, they'll think they can’t apply for that job.
Sara: Negotiation is a big part of the training we do and one of the things, particularly if you're having a face to face conversation, is lower and slower, and fewer words. Stop at the point at which you've made the ask, you've stated why. Don’t over explain.
Anna: Find colleagues and champions that can cheer-lead you. And be transparent. Tell people how much you earn.
Words by Louise Tutt. Photography by Jordan Anderson.
BAFTA – the British Academy of Film and Television Arts - is a world-leading independent arts charity that brings the very best work in film, games and television to public attention and supports the growth of creative talent in the UK and internationally. Through its Awards ceremonies and year-round programme of learning events and initiatives – which includes workshops, masterclasses, scholarships, lectures and mentoring schemes in the UK, USA and Asia – BAFTA identifies and celebrates excellence, discovers, inspires and nurtures new talent, and enables learning and creative collaboration. For more, visit www.bafta.org. BAFTA is a registered charity (no. 216726).