The 2018 Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California™ reveals that California women in the workforce lack equitable representation in some of the state’s fastest-growing and highest-paying fields, including in science, medicine, engineering and technology. The research also underscores how far women lag behind their male colleagues when it comes to equal pay and positions of influence in nearly all industries.
The Report was authored by the Mount’s Center for the Advancement of Women. The Center’s research examines why certain obstacles and biases continue to undermine professional opportunities for California’s women.
“The loss is not just theirs,” says Emerald Archer, PhD, director of the Center and the Report’s editor in chief. “California’s communities and economies suffer, too, when half of the workforce is not achieving its full economic potential due to pay, wealth and policy inequities.”
A companion anthology, called Collectif, is also posted online. The anthology includes related original research and essays conducted by Mount Saint Mary’s faculty and students, covering topics such as women in entertainment, women’s re-entry to civilian life post-incarceration, and the impact of mentoring relationships on first-generation Latina graduate students.
A public conversation
These results and more were discussed at a public event on March 22 in Los Angeles that brought more than 800 women together to hear high-profile female leaders of industry — from places like Netflix, Bloomberg, Lyft, the U.S. Department of Labor and more — who are attempting to reverse the data on women in the workforce. (See the full lineup of speakers.)
Shereen Marisol Meraji, co-host of NPR’s Code Switch podcast and a correspondent for NPR’s All Things Considered, moderated a pair of panels on “Female Forces at Work” and “Women Shaping the World: A Forecast for Our Future.”
Judith Williams, PhD, formerly of Google and Dropbox, and now an adviser to the ReFrame Project with Women in Film and the Sundance Institute, proposed that a wholesale change in how companies approach issues of equity is needed.
“This is about fixing the structures that create these inequities,” Williams said, noting that systemic changes can create a ripple effect. “If we change the world for women, we change the world for everyone.”
“We need to have uncomfortable conversations in our workforces about gender diversity, and we need to emphasize the business case when raising the issue,” said Veronica Juarez, senior director of business initiatives at Lyft. “What are the benefits that diversity brings to the workplace? Diversity of thought and perspective is essential to solving social challenges. That’s why we need to fund more diverse entrepreneurs to really make a difference in our communities.”
Emily Chang, author of “Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley,” and anchor and executive producer of “Bloomberg Technology,” agreed. In a conversation with Emerald Archer, Chang highlighted a pair of primary drivers for gender inequity in Silicon Valley in Northern California and Silicon Beach in Southern California. She cited that just 2% of all venture capital funding goes to women entrepreneurs in technology. “In no way is that a meritocracy,” Chang said. She also commented on how an “insidious preference for ‘culture fit’” often keeps technology start-ups and businesses from bringing in diverse hires, such as women and people of color.
“’Culture fit’ is often just a way to reject people who don’t look and act like you,” Chang said. “Companies should be aiming for ‘culture addition.’ They should be thinking, ‘How can we add value and bring in different perspectives?’ That isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”
Women in media and entertainment
The event concluded with a conversation on “Gender Equality in Hollywood: A Look Behind the Scenes,” featuring Academy Award-winning actor Geena Davis and writer-producer Erika Green Swafford.
The discussion was moderated by Emmy Award-winning journalist Kim Baldonado, and touched on topics ranging from representation to pay disparities. Green, writer and co-executive producer of ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” and NBC’s “Reverie,” said women need to be more vocal about these issues within the industry, and also need to recognize how much value they bring. “Be confident in your competence. Ruffle a few feathers,” she said. “Go get your money!”
Other topics included a need to focus on identify and intersectionality in writers’ rooms, and the impact of ageism in Hollywood. Quipped Davis, the “Thelma & Louise” star: “At 40 you fall off a cliff that you didn’t choose to drive off.”
Much of the discussion focused on the growing momentum for change in the industry, as much recent attention has been focused on improving pay and safety conditions for women in the industry, as well as diversifying who is writing, directing and portraying the stories we see on screen. Both women praised the current attention and momentum for equality in Hollywood, but voiced notes of caution. Davis for instance, reminded everyone that momentum was supposedly also shifting back in 1992, the widely proclaimed “Year of the Woman.”
“Everyone thought “Thelma & Louise” was the movie that was going to change gender inequality in film and media,” Davis said. “But we’ve thought that several times now and we’re still waiting for that moment of gender parity. With #TimesUp and #MeToo and the success of so many female-led films, though, maybe we are closer to that turning point than ever before.”
According to this year’s Report, the top 250-grossing films in 2016-2017 had a behind-the-scenes staff that was made up of 17% women — the same percentage from a decade before. Of the 100 top-grossing domestic films in 2016-2017, women accounted for 31% of roles on screen — only up from 30% a decade prior.
To learn more about the event and to read the Report, visit msmu.edu/statusofwomen. The site includes a gender parity dashboard that tracks California’s progress, or the lack thereof, in seven key areas over the past decade.
This is the seventh annual Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California published by Mount Saint Mary’s University.