Hollywood’s distorted view of women and girls is preventing women from achieving their full potential, according to actress and media activist Geena Davis, who spoke last week at the Network of Executive Women’s (NEW) Executive Leaders Forum in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
Noting that females of all ages are grossly misrepresented in movies, television and other media, Davis said women, men, corporations and governments must work together to change the way women are perceived and to cultivate women leaders.
Davis offered the 300 senior executives attending the NEW Forum some startling statistics:
• In group scenes, only 17 percent of characters are female. “Apparently, women don’t like to ‘gather,'” Davis said to laughter. While females make up more than half the population of the U.S., males outnumber females three to one in family films. Even more staggering, Davis pointed out, this ratio is the same as it was in 1946.
• From 2006-2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law or in politics. In these films, 80.5 percent of all working characters are male and 19.5 percent are female. In the real world, women comprise 50 percent of the workforce, according to Davis.
During her acting career, Davis said she became aware of how few great roles there are for women.
“For roles that are there, they don’t drive the plot,” she said. “They are someone’s girlfriend or they are there for eye candy.”
Her roles in movies such as “Thelma & Louise” (1991) led to a profound interest in the way girls and women are portrayed in the media and cemented her passion to help empower them.
“These (acting) experiences have led me down paths that were not part of my master plan,” she said.
Since “Thelma & Louise,” Davis said she has chosen roles based on the answer to the question: “What are the women in the audience going to think about my character?” Today, she tries to find projects that allow her to play women in control of her own fate.
“If you see me playing the comatose wife of Sean Connery—and that age gap is about right for Hollywood—you’ll know I’m broke,” she said.
Having spent most of her adult life encouraging girls and women to reach their full potential, Davis told the senior leaders in the room, “We can and must leverage the impact that we have.”
NEW ‘town hall’ explores barriers to women’s leadership
Men, women and companies must all change before businesses can advance more women leaders and achieve greater gender equality, according to attendees voting at the Network of Executive Women’s Executive Leaders Forum in Rancho Palos Verdes last week.
Using their mobile devices to vote, the mostly female audience of senior executives, examined barriers to women’s advancement in the retail and consumer goods industry.
Only 13 percent thought “having women ‘lean in’ more’” would create change. The vast majority of the audience thought change needed to happen within companies. Forty percent said “changing the corporate culture” was the most important change needed to “advance women’s leadership, ” while nearly as many—37 percent—said “increasing sponsorship of women.” Ten percent of respondents said “work/life flexibility” is the most needed change.
“I believe we should focus on what we can influence,” said Vicki Felker, VP of pet specialty, customer development group, Nestlé Purina PetCare Co.
Felker moderated the town hall, which examined the ways women can be “bold and authentic” at work.
The majority (58 percent) of the senior leaders defined “bringing my authentic self to work” as “being honest about my personal life and career aspirations.” Nearly one-third said it means “living my values at work,” while one in 10 said it means “working in an organization that shares my values.”
”Authenticity is a practice, not a state of being,” Felker told the crowd. “There aren’t two groups of people—the authentic and the inauthentic. Authenticity is a choice—a strategic one.”
Two-thirds of attendees said they bring their authentic selves to work “most of the time.” Twenty-three percent said “always,” 12 percent said “selectively” and just one person said “rarely or never.”
The most often cited reason for those who do not always bring their authentic selves to work was “it goes against the corporate culture” (34 percent). One-fourth cited “the fear of not being accepted” and another quarter said they choose not to be authentic at work because they “desire to keep their personal self private.” Fifteen percent said they “fear appearing weak.”
Asked if “being authentic” was rewarded inside their organizations, 60 percent of town hall participants said “it can be risky, but pays off in the end;” 28 percent said it was “safe” to be authentic at work; and more than one in 10 said being authentic “was not worth it.”
The Network of Executive Women is the consumer products and retail industry’s largest diversity organization, with more than 7,000 members representing 700 industry companies. The network has 92 national sponsors and 20 regional groups in the U.S. and Canada. It hosts dozens of local events and two national conferences each year.