Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Women in Media: Challenging Bias, Transforming Business

Madeline Di Nonno, Executive Director at the Geena Davis Institute led a rousing, left-coast oriented session on Women in Media this afternoon. The Institute has done wide-ranging research on gender bias in media, and their findings are stunning. For example, examining G and PG13 films that came out over a period of several years, one study found that equity in the depiction of male vs. female characters is “non-existent”; out of 5,554 speaking characters, only about a quarter were female. Female characters were largely unemployed (less than 20% of female speaking characters were shown in a job-related light). What is more, of the female characters that were employed, there was no representation at all of women in the major business professions (doctor, lawyer, executive, etc). “The good news is, all of the criminals were male,” Madeline joked.

“There really isn’t a conspiracy against women,” Madeline says. Rather, the bias is an expression of the under-representation of women (only 7% of film directors are women, for example). Geena Davis herself has noted “If she can see it, she can be it,” the point being that as more women enter positions of power in Hollywood, we can change the way female characters are portrayed, and therefore how young women view themselves and their options in life.

The women on the panel represented the momentum around women in media making a difference: Christine Cadena of Disney; Beth Roberts of Universal Cable Productions; Regina Thomas of BET Networks, and Maryellen Zarakas of Warner Brothers.

Maryellen noted that since starting her career in entertainment “everything has changed,” highlighting the transformations in entertainment--in particular, the digital revolution that energizes the sector today. Beth concurred, citing the phenomenal impact of the revolution in digital communication on business and how the near-immediate availability of information demands flexibility as business conditions change fast and often.

Regina talked about being one of only three females in syndication sales in the early 1990s, and the subsequent explosion of opportunities in the cable industry, particularly for women, who entered cable television in greater numbers than the film industry. Christine talked about the power of the consumer voice in today’s entertainment industry, and the way that has transformed the film industry. "If you're feeling comfortable, you're moving backwards," Christine noted. Her advice to women hoping to start out in the industry? "Take risks. Learn from everyone and everything. Ask for mentorship, ask for connections."

The audience was left with the impression of an entertainment industry that is in the midst of a total transformation, one that includes the voices of a diverse array of women leaders like the ones on our panel today, creating a proliferation of opportunity for women want to change the world.

Find research by the Geena Davis Institute here: