What Gender Bias Looks Like

Gender bias can be subtle and difficult to understand. At the beginning of my women’s leadership programs, many women cannot see it and eventually discover that it is so much a part of their daily lives, they have become numb to it. The following are some recently published examples of gender bias from the media, finance and biopharma, economics, and Wall Street that silence women’s voices and create barriers to women’s participation in shaping our world. News Media: Amanda Taub and Max Fisher of the New York Times write that women are underrepresented in news coverage by a ratio of three-to-one. Being quoted or cited in news articles helps determine who is considered to be an authority on a topic. Taub and Fisher note that the social machinery that equates expertise with maleness is complex and creates a vicious cycle that shuts women out. For example, news organizations use online searches to find experts to quote or cite. Because women are underrepresented in news coverage, their names do not come up as often in searches and they continue to be excluded. Finance and Biopharma: Rebecca Robbins and Meghana Keshavan of STAT share an example of gender bias at a large annual healthcare conference sponsored by J.P. Morgan: men represented 94 percent of the 540 people making high-profile presentations to biotech executives and investors. Let’s be clear—these events are where careers are made and enhanced by the opportunity for visibility. And women are not visible. This lack of representation of women on panels and in speaking slots at professional conferences is a trend that has been recently reported in several fields. Economics: Justin Wolfers of the New York Times writes about the scarcity of women and women’s voices in the field of economics and the implications for all of us. He notes that “because economics has an outsized influence on public policy . . . [and] many debates are likely to be dominated by men for years to come,” there are so few women in economics. Wolfers cites surveys that show stark differences in opinion between women and men economists: women economists, by large margins, favor policies that promote income equality, big government and government regulation, mandatory employer-provided health insurance, and labor policies that promote environmental quality over economic growth. Women economists tend to focus on different topics than men, and as Wolfers writes, “If there were more female economists, more attention would surely be paid to these issues.” The number of women studying economics has stalled, and women are a minority in every level of training and rank in economics. Wolfers notes that a host of careful studies has identified barriers that discourage and drive women out of the field, such as being held to a higher standard for publishing or not being given tenure credit for publishing with men, while men get credit for publishing with women. Jim Tankersley and Noam Scheiber of the New York Times, also writing about women in economics, share new research on patterns of gender discrimination in the field. One study on the most popular introductory economics textbooks found that the textbooks refer to men four times more than to women and that 90 percent of the economists cited in the texts are men. This new research also notes that the bias against African American women in economics is especially pronounced—only fifty-two black women earned doctorates in the field between 2006 and 2015. Black women are incredibly invisible. Wall Street: A new lawsuit against the investment firm run by Steven A. Cohen, Point72, is reported by Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Matthew Goldstein of the New York Times. The woman bringing the suit explains, “The company is a testosterone-fueled ‘boys club’ in which men comment on women’s bodies, belittle their abilities, exclude women from meetings, and pay them less than male peers.” Further evidence of gender bias is offered: women are fewer than 3 percent of managing directors and, of the 125 portfolio managers, only one is a woman. When women’s voices and perspectives are missing from the classroom, research, business, and government, we all lose. Let’s keep the pressure on for change.   Photo courtesy of businessforward (CC BY-SA 2.0)]]>

Why We Need More Women in Hollywood and Television

Movies and television are important shapers of culture and provide us with role models for ways to be in the world. I remember the first time I saw a woman portrayed in a movie as a strong heroine. She was the warrior in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the year 2000, and I was thrilled to see a woman as the lead on screen showing strength, cleverness, and tenderness. Most recently we have the character of Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games movies. Her creator, author Suzanne Collins, presents young girls and women a complex role model who never settles into a stereotype, is never upstaged by a love interest, is both a hunter and nurturer, and who has positive relationships with women. But this chance to see such a role model is rare: this is the first movie with a lone female lead to top the annual domestic box office in four decades. It is not just as lead characters that we need more female presence in film and television. Women as screenwriters, directors, editors, and producers have important talents and contributions to make as role models and shapers of culture; however, gender discrimination is even worse in Hollywood than in Silicon Valley and corporate America, and women are shut out. In 2005, actress Geena Davis commissioned a research project at the University of Southern California to study the issue and bring attention to gender discrimination in Hollywood. Here are some of the findings from that research:

  • Between 2007 and 2014, women made up only 30.2 percent of speaking or named characters in the 100 top-grossing fictional films.
  • Between 2013 and 2014, women were only 1.9 percent of the directors of the 100 top-grossing films.
  • In 2014, the six major studios released only three movies with a female director.
  • 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.
  • A recent Directors Guild analysis of 277 television series in 2014 found women directed only 16 percent.
  • The Writers Guild of America Staff Board showed women’s share of writing positions for television has flatlined since 2001 and is the worst on staffs of late night shows, where women represent only 18 percent of writers.
Events in the past year have brought additional problems to light that helped trigger an industry-wide investigation by the ACLU and EEOC into gender discrimination, which has yet to be resolved. One of the additional problems highlighted came out in the data hacked from Sony Pictures databases which revealed that female stars, such as Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams, were paid less than their lesser-known male costars. What can we do? Fixing the gender problem in Hollywood requires that we raise awareness of the problems by talking with others and lending support to women in the industry. I try to do this by noticing the credits and commenting on the presence or lack of women in creative roles. We can also tweet and post our support for women in Hollywood and television. They influence our culture, and we need their perspectives and talents.   Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>