Why Hollywood’s Battle to Improve the Role of Women in Their Industry is So Important for Future Women in Business

best actress oscars 2016

Why Hollywood’s Battle to Improve the Role of Women in Their Industry is So Important for Future Women in Business

There’s an ongoing discussion in Hollywood about unequal pay and unequal opportunity for women. Actresses including Jessica Chastain, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lawrence and Patricia Arquette have all made public statements about the gender inequality in Hollywood. I hate to tell you ladies, its not just Hollywood. Its everywhere.

But its not the pay gap and the number of roles available that is also a hot topic, its the types of roles and the types of stories being told that are at the core of problem. This past week at the Oscars as the nominees for the two top acting categories were read off for both the men and the women, we couldn’t help but notice the roles these actors characters played. Note the disparity in the descriptions between the men and the women. The “J” next to each one indicating a job. Three of the ten female nominees’ characters were described by the job or career they held in the film, while all but one of the male characters had jobs. Thats women 3…men 9…jobs that is.

Best Supporting Actress
A murderous fugitive with a price on her head
A young woman drawn into a forbidden relationship in the 1950’s
An intrepid reporter searching for the truth  “J”
An artist who’s spouse undergoes pioneering gender confirmation surgery
Plainspoken marketing chief goes toe to toe with Steve Jobs “J”

Best Supporting Actor
Ex neurologist turned financial genius “J”
Sadistic fur trapper “J”
Persuasive investigative journalist “J”
Socialist spy pivotal to prisoner exchanged “J”
Aging fighter named Rocky Balboa “J”

Best Actress
Divorce bound woman finds unexpected passion with a shop girl
A young mother who with her son escapes captivity and adjusts to the world outside
A struggling single mother, an inventor who builds a business empire “J”
A woman whose marriage is tested by the revelation of a decades old secret
A young Irish immigrant torn between two countries and two separate lives

Best Actor
The blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo “J”
The resourceful astronaut abandoned on Mars “J”
The vengeful frontiersman betrayed by his companions “J”
The brilliant and complicated co-founder of Apple “J”
One of the first people to undergo gender confirmation surgery

If we are going to change Hollywood, we have to have more women behind the scenes writing stories that feature women in careers. Bottom line. And we need more women in studio executive roles and management roles, pushing the envelope and forcing change from within. ABC recently named Channing Dungey as the new studio head, a bold and wise move on the part of ABC we say. After all, it was under her direction as the head of Drama for ABC that Shonda Rhimes developed some of the top rated television for the network.

Channing Dungey, previously ABC’s drama chief, will take over the prime-time part of his job as the head of ABC entertainment, making her the first black network president. Ms. Dungey’s elevation is a breakthrough for an industry that has often struggled with diversity, especially among the senior executive ranks. – New York Times

In an old boys club like Hollywood, Channing’s promotion is a “hurrah” that we all hope will lead to more notable moments. She joins the ranks of other female executives in Hollywood including Kathleen Kennedy (Lucasfilm) and Donna Langley (Universal Pictures) but the numbers are still glaringly low in comparison to the roles the men play in Hollywood leadership.

Why does this Hollywood struggle mean so much for the rest of us? Its because we all emulate what we watch. What we watch, the roles women and men play in the television shows and films we consume, the message we send through every sexist, narrow-minded role we put a woman in tells 10 year old boys in Mumbai, Singapore, Denmark and Iowa that’s the way women are and should be treated. Without more women in leadership roles, director roles, screen writing roles, editing roles and acting roles – and women over the age of 30 too – we cannot implement a culture shift that will positively affect the opportunities for all girls globally who aspire to be something more. As Geena Davis says “If she can see it, she can be it.” Not just young girls, all of us. We are all influenced by what we watch.

Female directors are in what ‘‘Girls’’ creator Lena Dunham calls ‘‘a dark loop.’’ If they don’t have experience, they can’t get hired, and if they can’t get hired, they can’t get experience. ‘‘Without the benefit of Google,’’ Headland said, ‘‘ask anybody to name more than five female filmmakers that have made more than three films. It’s shockingly hard.’’

 

The problem is so glaring that in 2005, the actress Geena Davis, who would go on to start her own gender institute, commissioned Stacy Smith, a researcher at the University of Southern California, to study the issue and help push the studios beyond Dude World. From 2007 through 2014, according to Smith’s research, women made up only 30.2 percent of speaking or named characters in the 100 top-grossing fictional films.

 

But the most wildly lopsided numbers have to do with who is behind the lens. In both 2013 and 2014, women were only 1.9 percent of the directors for the 100 top-grossing films. Excluding their art-house divisions, the six major studios released only three movies last year with a female director. It’s hard to believe the number could drop to zero, but the statistics suggest female directors are slipping backward. Prof. Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University reports that in 2014, 95 percent of cinematographers, 89 percent of screenwriters, 82 percent of editors, 81 percent of executive producers and 77 percent of producers were men. – New York Times

How are women going to make it in Hollywood?  By helping each other. As someone who has pitched a TV show to network television, met with ALL of the women-centric you tube channel producers, met with top women in tv development roles and even has a female agent (with one of the top four agencies I might add)…the lack of “let me help you make this happen” in the Hollywood community is kinda astounding. I have been in the business world for more than 25 years. I have sat the table with Presidents and CEOs of major corporations and time and again those incredibly busy and in demand women (and men) have said “let me help you make this happen.” Calls and emails were sent, introductions made and deals got closed because I was able to follow up on an introduction. In Hollywood, that has not been my experience. If we expect Hollywood to do more for us women, we first have to do more for each other. If help each other it will mean more women producing thought provoking, inspirational, educational and entertaining content in Hollywood which means more opportunity to impact and influence how women are perceived worldwide. Which means more career opportunities for more women.

So ladies in Hollywood keep pushing and we will keep pushing with you. This is why we support the Geena Davis Institute. This is why is was so important to us to introduce you to Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair of Playing House on USA (the ONLY two women writers / actors / producers in with their own show in comedy tv today). Support those women who are producing content in Hollywood by watching their shows and movies. And tweet them. Every link is this post is to a twitter account. Tell them you read this post and you appreciate their efforts!

Media is powerful. Our voices are powerful. Our actions are powerful. With every stride forward we affect positive change. Whether we are fighting for moms in the career world or pounding on the doors of Hollywood, MomFair is in it alongside you.

About Post Author

Laura Gerson

Laura Nix Gerson is the co-founder of Hello Métier. She is a digital content producer and marketer, specializing in lead generation and audience development. She has directed marketing and business development strategy in both corporate and agency environments. Over the course of her career she has been at the table with industry leaders and heads of corporations and consulted with numerous tech start-ups, small business owners and non-profits. An entrepreneur herself, Laura understands what it takes to launch and grow a business. She has held significant management positions in both corporate and start-up environments, where recruitment and retention of employees has always been a key component of her work. She blogs at MomAngeles and is a contributing writer for Babble and ModernMom. Follow her on twitter @lauranixgerson or on LinkedIn.