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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Geena Davis' 17% Theory

Geena Davis, Academy-Award winning actress*, and founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, was our keynote speaker at the Women President's Organization annual conference. That's where I first heard her 17% theory. She shared it one week later at The Wall Street Journal's Task Force for Women in the Economy. Davis says the Institute's research shows that across every sector of society - business, politics, law, media, academia - the percentage of women in authority has stalled out at 17 percent. Why?

Davis believes it is because of pervasive gender imbalance in entertainment media aimed at children. There are three male speaking parts for every one female speaking part in G-rated movies and television programs. In crowd scenes, only 17 percent of characters are female. By exposing kids at an early age to this view of a world where the sexes are unequal, we are, in effect, training youngsters to view girls as less important than boys - and showing that they take up far less than half the space in the world.

The entertainment media's portrayal of the world indoctrinates kids with an unconscious comfort level that a female representation of 17 percent feels comfortable and natural. Davis and those who support the Institute she founded are working to eradicate the imbalance in media that kids consume.

Business leaders and corporate communications practitioners who want to ensure diversity and inclusion in their organizations and the internal media they produce for employees might find the Institute's research enlightening.

* Davis refers to herself, not as an actress, but as an actor. She told the WPO audience that soon the word "actress" will feel as quaint as "authoress" and "poetess." Will the Oscar soon go to the best female actor and the best male actor?