SEBA Students Attend Aspire to Lead Women’s Conference in Hollywood

Aspire to Learn

Dean Zhan Li and executive MBA students Chanel Durley and Maribel Delgado traveled to Hollywood to attend the Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) “Aspire to Lead” Conference, held at the Lynnwood Dunn Theatre, which is currently an archive facility for 140 years of movie reels. The Saint Mary’s contingent sat close to the stage in a row directly behind actress and Oscar Award-winner Geena Davis, the woman behind the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which uses community educational outreach to inspire and sensitize the next generation of content creators to focus on gender equality and reducing stereotyping in children’s media. 

Panelists included Davis, Dawn Hudson, CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Director of Kung Fu Panda.

Dean Zhan Li, a big fan of Davis, was eager to accept PwC’s invitation to bring SEBA students to the event. “Gender equality is a very profound societal issue. Promoting women leadership and improving gender equality are very much consistent with SEBA's mission of 'Think Globally. Lead Responsibly.' Our student participants in this event represented Saint Mary's very well.”

Delgado and Durley, who are also class representatives for their cohorts, were excited for the opportunity to learn from the Academy Award-winning actress and founder, whose institute is the only research-based organization working within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate, and influence the need to dramatically improve gender balance, reduce stereotyping, and create diverse female characters in entertainment targeting children 11 and under. 

When the panel began, Davis shared some disheartening statistics with the audience. Males outnumber females 3 to 1 in family films. In contrast, females comprise just over 50 percent of the population in the United States. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946. Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waistline. Generally, unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males. Even roles with animated females (animal or human) are depicted in sexy attire and abnormal bodily proportions.

Females are also underrepresented behind the camera. Across 1,565 content creators, only seven percent of directors, 13 percent of writers, and 20 percent of producers are female. This translates to 4.8 males working behind-the-scenes to every one female. From 2006 to 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 politics. In these films, 80.5 percent of all working characters are male and 19.5 percent are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50 percent of the workforce.

From left to right, Geena Davis, Maribel Delgado, Chanel Durley and Zhan Li

Durley has had her own experience of trying to bring equality into the arena of women, particularly women of color. As an African-American woman who loves sports, she started a sports show with her close friend and sister to counter their frustration with the lack of representation of women in the media. The three women wanted to show that young, educated black women could work together to be positive role models in the media and to their community.

“Listening to the conversation made me realize how far the media has come; however, there is still a very long way to go until we reach parity,” she said.

All three of the SEBA attendees had the opportunity to speak with Geena Davis. “I let her know that I’m a big fan of her work and appreciated her keynote address and the work she is doing to research gender inequality in the media. I am also inspired by the way she walks her talk especially with being selective in the roles she chooses to take so as to make sure she is portraying women in a positive light.”

“I learned that unconscious bias is real and that we all need to be more conscious about how we view ourselves as women, and how men and children view us,” said Durley. “I also found it interesting that there has been a surge in women in medical forensic scientist positions which research has attributed being to the public seeing women in these positions on television (Bones, CSI, etc.). The stereotypes and gender role associations we see on television or in the movies often seeps into our subconscious, and we tend to limit ourselves as women, or limit others based on these stereotypes.” She added, “We can perpetuate a great reality where life imitates art on purpose!”

“Attending the event was encouraging and empowering,” said Delgado. Her biggest takeaways, she said, were “…that I play a big role in helping women reach their full potential. I want to continue to be a voice of encouragement, especially for those that do not believe in themselves.” She was able to speak with Davis, thanking her for all of her work in the empowerment and advancement of women.