We’d like to think we’ve reached peak equality in terms of women in positions of leadership in the world. And while we have seen incredible gains and momentum, unfortunately the statistics show we still have a long way to go. The recent US presidential election on November 8 resulted in a devastating loss for the Democrats when Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, ensuring the “highest glass ceiling” for women in America, holding the office of the presidency, is yet to be cracked.
Thankfully, we did see a number of women, especially women of color, gain some important seats in various state and federal legislatures on the same night, including California Senator-elect Kamala Harris who became the first bi-racial woman, the first black politician to represent California, and only the second black woman ever elected to the US Senate.
In total, women make up only 20% of the US House of Representatives, which means an overwhelming majority of leaders making decisions about women’s bodies, healthcare, family planning, childcare, college, education, immigration, marriage equality, conflict and more are men.
In the business world, women make up less than 5% of CEOs of S&P 500 companies, according to statistics from 2015. In the IT world, women hold only 9% of managerial positions, and account for only 14% of senior management positions at Silicon Valley startups.
But surely in a such a liberal industry like Hollywood and entertainment, the culture is very different, right? Wrong! According to statistics from the latest Boxed In report compiled by UC San Diego’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, female directors comprised less than 20% of all directors across cable, broadcast and digital platforms in the 2015-2016 period.
In the film industry alone, women make up an appalling 4% of directors on major motion pictures, a number that has actually steady decreased over the past few decades. Either we are doing something wrong, or the perception of progress is way overstated. What matters most is that we do not give up promoting the need for more women in leadership positions in a range of industries and environments.
It comes down to this: “You can’t be what you can’t see”, a phrase coined by Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman. If you think it is a no-brainer statement not needed by girls and women today, think again. In her recent TEDx Talk in Chicago, Emmy Ward-winning documentary filmmaker Sarah Moshman spoke about the power of film and visual representation in inspiring girls to know what is possible.
Over the past few years she has been traveling around the world showing her documentary ‘The Empowerment Project’, which features profiles of a number of trailblazing women in various industries, including the military, politics, mathematics, and more. After one screening in Seattle, a young girl came to her and expressed how thrilled she was to see an interview with a female astronaut, because she had no idea women could even be such a thing! It’s 2016, by the way…
The Atlantic online recently released a 5-part series called ‘Women And Leadership’ where they showcased interviews with 5 women in local, federal and international politics, technology and film. Compton Mayor Aja Brown, Senator Amy Klobuchar, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Bumble dating app founder Whitney Wolfe and Hollywood producer Wendy Finerman are the featured interviewees.
Wendy, who has produced cult-hits like ‘Forest Gump’ and ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ says she is often the only woman on the crew, and in recent years and become more dedicated to working on films that are directed by women and have prominent female characters. She says believes one of the barriers she sees in the film industry comes from within the female community.
“I personally don’t feel women are always supportive of each other, because they feel it might diminish [their] chance of getting that spot,” she said.
The other major barrier, of course, is the people who are making most of the powerful decisions about the representation of women in front of and behind the camera.
“A lot of the time we have men who are making these decisions of what women should see and how women should be entertained,” she said, explaining how a number of men in Hollywood didn’t think Meryl Streep would be able to pull off the comedic role of Miranda Priestley in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, which drove Wendy to prove them wrong. The film ended up being nominated for 2 Oscars, and Meryl Streep won the Golden Globe in 2007 for her role.
In 2013, 31-year-old Aja Brown made history as Compton’s youngest mayor. It was the culmination of a long journey for Brown—her grandmother had been murdered in the California city, and her family moved to another town after the tragedy. She is Compton’s first female mayor in 40 years.
“What shocked me the most was everyone else’s reaction. The first thing off the top of their minds was ‘Are you old enough, are you tough enough?’ They were just surprised that I would have the audacity to run for mayor,” she said in her interview.
Over the past 3 years her leadership style and community programs she has implemented has seen a drastic shift in the culture of Compton.
Despite having no family ties in politics, Amy Klobuchar became a Democratic US Senator in 2007, the first female to do so from the state of Minnesota. The New York Times has named her as one of 17 women most likely to become the first female president of the United States, and since the spot is still open, this could be a reality one day. Amy believes having more women in political leadership is vital to furthering equality.
“Having women at the table is incredibly important…they’re able to get things done in a unique way. Based on your experiences, you can relate more and immediately see the unfairness of a problem that others are experiencing,” she said.
At 42, Samantha Power became the youngest person to be appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Now, she is a powerful force in steering America’s foreign policy and dictating intervention abroad. Despite being surrounded by men on the security council, she admits that she carries a lot of clout as an American.
“We’re the largest donor, we’re the host country, we’re the superpower—so people’s ability to be dismissive or patronizing with me are limited,” she said.
Samantha also admits balancing motherhood and career can be difficult, but it is an important calling she is not willing to take lightly.
“It’s not ideal to always be one eye on the blackberry, and two arms around my children. For the sake of mothers out there who don’t have the blackberry but do have the children and are hoping someone will be raising their voice on their behalf, it’s a great privilege,” she said.
Whitney Wolfe created dating app Bumble, unofficially known as the “feminist” dating app as it requires women to make the first move. Battling an aggressive male culture in the digital dating world, as well as in the tech world in general (Whitney was a co-founder and VP of marketing at Tinder and left after filing a lawsuit, claiming the founder Justin Mateen sexually harassed her).
Whitney’s mission is not only to give agency back to women within Bumble, but also to change the culture of how women and men dialog in the digital age.
“Generally speaking, women my age have been raised with the notion that they are meant to sit put and not make the first move in a relationship,” she said, pointing to the misogynistic stereotypes that have been around for eons.
“You can’t necessarily blame tech. We need to look at the root of the problem, and the root of the problem is the education system,” she adds.
Although this online series only covers 3 industries, it has reminded us of the importance of representation and leadership. We were inspired by these short videos, which were all directed by women, and hope they encourage each of you to use your position in the world and in your community to foster support, mentorship and equality.