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25 February 2016

Geena Davis: what you see is what you can be – at Aspire to Lead 2016

Last week in Hollywood, I attended PwC’s third Aspire to Lead Event – our series on leadership for men and women – co-hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with our three amazing Global Diversity Week winners – Diego, from PwC Mexico, Serisha, from PwC South Africa, and Susan, from PwC Australia.

The panel featured Academy-Award winning actor Geena Davis, as well as Dawn Hudson, CEO of the Academy and Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Academy Award nominee and director of Kung-Fu Panda 2 (who, besides talking gender in Hollywood, also spoke about the power of introverts).

Aspire to Lead

University students and PwC colleagues joined the studio audience, while thousands of people around the world watched the live webcast – which will soon be available to view here.

Having worked in diversity for a number of years now, it’s almost impossible to stun me with facts and figures around the gap between society’s ambitions and the reality of gender parity; and yet, Geena Davis and the panel managed to do just that. Geena’s speech – which I encourage you to watch – highlighted the inequities between women and men in film – inequities that due to their enormous visibility pervade our socialization, behaviors, self-perception, and actions. Just a few compelling examples that she shared:

In a world that’s half female, the ratio of female to male characters on television shows and movies aimed at kids is one to three – and can be as low as one to six. Even in G-rated animated films the female characters that do exist tend to be hyper-stereotyped or hyper-sexualized; and their aspirations tend to be around finding romance. In terms of ‘careers,’ royalty prevails for girls (“a great gig, but hard to land” Davis cracked).

In movies for adults, 81% of jobs are held by males.

Globally, the percentage of women portrayed in the fictional workforce of movies is actually far less than what it is in the real world; whereas 40% of the global workforce is comprised of women, only 25% of them hold jobs in television and the movies.

The more hours a girl watches of television, the fewer options she believes she has; the more hours of television a boy watches, the more sexist he becomes.

What message, Davis asked, are we sending to boys and girls at a very vulnerable age if all of the female characters are one-dimensional, stereotyped, hypersexualized – or simply not there at all? We are teaching them, that women and girls are less important than men and boys; we’re training them to see that women and girls do not take up half of the space in the world. We’re training them, in essence, to see gender imbalance as normal.

The implications of these statistics are staggering. But Davis had a very positive message: unlike places like government and business, Hollywood can literally change the game overnight. “This is doable,” she said. “This is easy compared to lots of the problems in the world.”

Like many of the articles you read about in this blog, Davis shared that people don’t believe there are so many fewer female characters in film – but when she shares the statistics with studios and her actor peers, they sit up and listen – “jaws drop,” she said. Many of them have consciously worked to change the representation of women after meeting with Davis. As an example of the power of seeing professional women on television, she pointed out that there was a 70% increase of women into forensic science as a major in university after shows such as CSI and Bones became popular.

Aspire to Lead
(Pictured above: me and the distinguished panelists with Diego, Serisha, Susan – and of course, Geena)

If, as Davis said, what we see is what we can be, Hollywood and filmmakers all over the world could have an enormous impact right here and right now on the self-perception and aspirations of billions of children around the world. Media can be the solution, she said, to the very problem it’s creating.

For those of us who aren’t screenwriters or Hollywood directors, the panel discussed actions that everyone can take to start changing this paradigm of gender inequality.

Check back here soon to watch the Aspire to Lead recording. And watch this space for exciting news from PwC on International Women’s Day.


P.S. – a “small world” story I had to share because of its novelty: I was sitting next to two PwC professionals from PwC’s Los Angeles office at the event; I asked them if either recruited for PwC at their (I assumed) California alma maters. Chuck did, at UC Santa Barbara; his colleague, however, said, “not really, because I went to a small school in Williamsburg Virginia across the country – The College of William and Mary.” Well. Needless to say, so did I! We even both lived in the same freshman dorm.

Samantha: so nice meeting you and keep up the great tax TICE work in sunny Los Angeles. Go, Green and Gold!

Aspire to Lead


Great blog Dale. We have hosted the first of our Aspire to Lead conferences here in the UK with the second next week on 29 February. Excellent with great participation and focused attention by all on gender parity! Great to experience in our next gen leaders.

It was such a great experience to meet up with the other prize winners and attendees at this recent PwC event. When I got back I was reflecting that when I first watched Thelma and Louise at the movies back in 1991, in my first year of working, I would never have imagined that many years later I would be standing there next to Geena Davis. Just goes to show that although we can't always imagine what the future will hold, opportunities will arise and we shouldn't limit our own potential, or accept limits set by others. Cheers, Susan Price

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