A question of leadership / by KirstenStudio

Last Friday a The White House Project and interested parties converged on Bloomberg LP to mark the release of the organization's new report entitled The White House Project: Benchmarking Women's Leadership.  The report is a compilation of 6 years worth of research and surveys from 10 different industries, including but certainly not limited to, film and television. The event was composed mainly of panelists that represented most of the fields explored in the report (sadly, there wasn't a panelist for film and television entertainment, but the speakers that were there were very good). screen-shot-2009-11-18-at-122420-amWhat is interesting about the report and something I wasn't aware of is that there's a public perception that women have workplace parity, but we are really no where close if you count high level positions, and we are indeed counting the high level positions.  The Benchmarking Women's Leadership report found that women make up only 18 percent of the top leaders and bring in just 78.7 cents to every buck their male equivalent earns.  Yeah, we have a ways to go. (chart images are from TWHP's report)

On Page 7 of Why the Time is Now, the reports states, "Prominent research groups, including the Center for American Woman and Politics at Rutgers University and the Women & Politics Institute at American University, have long noted that women tend to include diverse viewpoints in decision making, have a broader conception of public policy, and are also more likely to work through differences to for coalitions, complete objectives, and bring disenfranchised communities to the table."

Financial profits, quality and scope of decision making look more than good when significant numbers of women are involved.  Furthermore, according to TWHP's report, women make "... institutions more transparent, responsive, accountable and ethical."

So the question is why.  Why aren't women in more leadership positions?  The report seeks to find that answer as well as create a solid plan as to how we'll increase that 18 percent.

TWHP's survey examined the following industries: academia, business, film, journalism, law, military, nonprofit, politics, religion and sports.  The percent of women in leadership positions in the field of film and television entertainment came in at an unimpressive 16 percent.  Film tied with business and both beat out religion (at 15%) and military (at 11%).

As the film and television section states "It’s vital that women assume a larger leadership role in film and television (as well as other areas of the entertainment industry) because their presence helps to broaden the range and diversity not only of fictitious characters but ultimately of the public's recognition of women in "real life."

The survey on film and television entertainment is actually pretty alarming.  Female Presidents, COOs, EVPs, Chairs and Co-Chairs and similar top level positions at major film studios are few and far between with only a bit of an increase for independents. Both in front of the camera and behind the scenes, women are the minority population.  Female production staff in top spots according to TWHP in 2008 were at 16 percent of the top 250 domestic grossing films.  Those positions include all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors.  If you happen to be an ethnic minority, the numbers are worse and across the board, whatever your heritage, if you're fortunate enough to be a woman in a high level position in film and/or television, you most like earn quite a bit less than that of your male counterparts.picture-1

The White House Project's report doesn't just offer depressing statistics of how far women still have to go before finding parity with their male co-workers, the survey goes on to suggest ways that both women and men can make change and they are realistic and practical suggestions.  TWHP's recommendations for closing the leadership gap in the film and television industry are to implement training programs by way of workshops, master classes and mentoring programs as well as to support films with leading women.  They also suggest to begin conversations with professional guilds, support women’s advocacy coalitions and organizations (they included the importance of blogs in this!) and last but not least  scholarship and scouting of rising stars... especially rising star editors (I'm assuming.  I'm interpreting a little here).

At the Q&A following the opening statement by TWHP's President and Founder,  Marie Wilson and the panel discussion, a women in the audience (of over 240 attendees) said she has been through the women's movement and still today there is something that remains unexplored, and that is men never expected women to end up in these kind of positions.  She believes they still have trouble dealing with the idea of women in leadership roles.  She asked, how do we help men accept and feel comfortable with women in high level positions?  One of the panelists said she thought we should meet them in small groups and open a dialogue. That's not verbatim, but close.  I have trouble envisioning men admitting their not comfortable with women being decision makers in leadership roles, making the same salary as their male colleagues, let alone talking about it.  Maybe that's my bias.  We all have them.  What's important is to admit them so we can get passed the self imposed lens we look through at others, so as Marie Wilson said, we can get beyond gender and get to the agenda.