(Reuters) - Women lag far behind men in reaching the top jobs in the film business as a study on Tuesday found only 9 percent of directors of the top 250 grossing Hollywood films in 2012 were women - the same level as 15 years ago.
The figures from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University were released a month ahead of the Oscars, where no women have made the shortlist for best director.
"Zero Dark Thirty" is the only movie nominated for a best picture award to have been directed by a woman - Oscar-winning Kathryn Bigelow who was the first and still only female director to win the best director award, in 2010, for "The Hurt Locker." Bigelow was not nominated this year in the best director category
Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, said the number of women directors of top films was up from 5 percent in 2011 but back at the same level as in 2008 and even 15 years ago.
She said the percentages had bounced between 5 percent and 9 percent for the past 15 years with the exception of 2000 when women accounted for 11 percent of directors.
"The bottom line is that the percentage of women directors has been declining for the last 5 years," Lauzen told Reuters.
She said women's representation in key positions in the film industry was important not only as an employment issue but also as a larger cultural issue as people tended to gravitate to creative projects that reflected their own personal reality.
"If (white) men are directing the vast majority of our films, the majority of those films will be about (white) males from a (white) male point of view," said Lauzen.
"Increasingly, this perspective does not reflect the community of filmmakers in this country or the community of moviegoers."
The survey found that in 2012, women made up 18 percent of directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 U.S. grossing films. This was unchanged from 2011 and an increase of 1 percentage point from 1998.
Women were most likely to work in the documentary, drama, and animated film genres. They were least likely to work in the action, horror and sci-fi genres.
A second survey released this week by the Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles also found women lagged men in the industry, but the numbers were not as bad in the independent film world.
The survey found women made up 29.8 percent of 11,197 directors, writers, producers, cinematographers and editors on films between 2002 to 2012 at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, the world's leading showcase for independent film.
"This data shows us that there is a higher representation of female filmmakers in independent film as compared to Hollywood - but it also highlights the work that is still to be done for women to achieve equal footing in the field," Cathy Schulman, president of Women In Film Los Angeles, said in a statement.
Film industry professionals, many of them women, suggested to organizers of the survey that steps to address the "celluloid ceiling" could include mentoring and encouraging early career women, improving access to finance and raising awareness of the problem.
Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, editing by Jill Serjeant and Cynthia Osterman