Career Choices and Insidious Bias

Continuing on the topic of the WSJ conference, I found one of the most thought provoking speakers to be Geena Davis.  She founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media   The institute describes itself at “the only research-based organization working within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate, and influence the need for gender balance, reducing stereotyping and creating a wide variety of female characters for entertainment targeting children 11 and under.”   I found this work so interesting because it is directly related to two topics I’ve written about on this blog.  One is the insidious biases – these unconscious preferences we have and two – the lack of women entering the technology fields. This research uncovers a potentially major source of these biases as well as job preferences.  According to her institute’s research:

  • Males outnumber females 3 to 1 in family films…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…Generally unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males.
  • 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% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce.

To summarize, using the infamous words of Woody Allen in Annie Hall – not only is the food bad (the main occupation for women in animated films is princess) the portion are small.

I found the 19.5 (call it 20) % number very sobering.  It seems that once we get to that level of penetration by women in particular fields or even levels the urgency for change goes away.  No wonder we have become so accepting of this 20% number and even consider that success – subconsciously that’s what we’ve been trained to accept as a norm.

Fortunately Geena Davis has good company working on exposing this issue – Misrepresentation is doing a great job exposing issues of gender bias in the media – I love their tagline “you can’t be what you can’t see” – we need to help girls imagine themselves as engineers, programmers and even VP’s and CEO’s

As I’ve found myself concluding in other blog posts where the personal action items is not clear, I’ll wrap up with the point that awareness is the first step.  Personal awareness as we consume media (and accompany our children as they consume it) and awareness of how this is impacting our society.

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