Archive for the ‘women's leadership’ Category


Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

My friend Sara recently sent news of a disturbing bit of research. Turns out that “less than a quarter of the people heard, seen or read about in mainstream broadcast and print news worldwide is female,” a finding dutifully and credibly recorded by a group called WIMN or Women in Media & News.

“It seems we still have a wee bit of work to do before we retire,” commented Sara.

The report summarizes preliminary findings of the fourth Global Media Monitoring Project, which WIMN calls the biggest and longest-running research initiative on gender in the news media. All in all, it’s a working snapshot of how women and men are portrayed and represented in global news media, based on analyzing 6,902 news items containing 14,044 news subjects, including people interviewed for/about the news, in 42 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean region, the Pacific Islands and Europe. (North American data isn’t represented yet, but will be included in the final release, slated for September 2010.)

We — by which I mean working journalists, broadcasters and bloggers, socially conscious twitterati, social activists, media mavens, nonprofit communications and development folks, women-for-women advocates, elected officials and government officers who like to say they care about women  — WE don’t seem to notice or put up much of a fuss over this glaring fact any more. It’s old hat, I suppose.

Certainly, the fact that women are overlooked and undervalued in news stories has been documented for decades, though I actually didn’t think it was still this bad. The National Organization for Women put out a scary factsheet about the lack of women in media jobs and media coverage in 2005. Since 2007 or so, the White House Media Project has occupied a niche of this space by each year running training workshops for a dozen or so women-with-the-appropriate-message to become effective media spokespeople and OP Ed writers. For years, the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at USC supported an annual report that literally counted how many women experts were referenced or quoted on the front pages of big-city dailies. Very few was always the tally, year after year. That benchmark died because newspapers were no longer worth surveying.

So here we remain. Muzzled.

It feels to me that all the noise we hear about the need to promote women in the workforce; and all the efforts mounted to ensure that women get to sit in political and corner offices; and all the horrific male-screened images and statistics and footage we see in mainstream media about violence done to women round the globe — all of that clearly is much more dramatic and immediately compelling than the disquieting little fact that women are arguably invisible to whoever and whatever is defining “news.”

But consider. If we were to work on this, to push back on this passive and disconcerting fact, if we all did some due diligence on advocating for women’s stories in mainstream media and maybe boycotting (there’s a word for you) the outlets that ignore women’s stories, then maybe there’d be more women in the power chairs. And then, well then, I’d just bet that much of the appalling domestic and international violence against women would diminish.

Why aren’t women’s stories important? Why are we still called a minority and fed “lifestyle” fables?

Tweet away! We ought to look into this. Get the entire research here. Take a gander at the substance of what’s covered when someone does tell women’s stories at Abby Disney’s new blog.

Maybe we should get together and pool our powerful pennies and buy a controlling interest in a multimedia brand. Who’s got a dime?


Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Increasingly, the survival and safety of women around the world are motivating American women to deepen their involvement. The result tends to be more focus, and more active engagement.

Diana von Furstenberg fits that bill. In addition to being chief executive of her global fashion business, the veteran designer is also a mother, the wife of media mogul Barry Diller, a founder of the Diller-von Furstenberg Family Foundation and president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

So it’s the more compelling that within weeks of attending a lunch a few years back to hear about Vital Voices Global Partnership, von Furstenberg decided to join its board. “Vital Voices resonates the most for me because it embraces all the things I believe in and stand for,” von Furstenberg told me. “That’s why I want to be more involved.”

Set up in 1997 by then First Lady Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright after the two attended the UN Conference on Women in Beijing, Vital Voices supports women community leaders worldwide. The group has rallied support from women across the political spectrum, including actress Sally Field, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Texas Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Besides marketing expertise, von Furstenberg has contributed space in her boutiques for performances of Seven, the donated work of seven women playwrights. The collaborative play dramatizes the lives of seven women supported by Vital Voices who are fighting the odds and the cultures in places like Russia, where one exposed domestic abuse; Pakistan, where a young girl who was gang-raped brought her attackers to justice; and Afghanistan, where a midwife defied the Taliban. “I thought if we illuminated their lives this way onstage, it might help to call attention to them,” says playwright Carol Mack, who initiated the project and wrote a portrait of Inez McCormack, a Protestant Irish trade unionist.

Similarly, Jewelle Bickford shifted the significant resources she contributes, notably as board member of Randolph Macon College and the Trisha Brown Dance Company, after a wrenching trip to Rwanda. Bickford, who was a senior advisor at Rothschild Group investment banking firm when she visited Rwanda and currently is a philanthropy consultant at GenSpring, returned to New York and got involved with Women for Women International, which aids women who are victims of war.

“It changes your life,” Bickford said to me. “Nothing has affected me like this. We can no longer tolerate what happens to women in developing countries.”

Bickford has joined the Women for Women board and is shedding her other charitable commitments. “One woman can make a difference,” she says.


Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Beyond the uncertain times and wobbly economy, women are still shying from giving and from defining themselves as philanthropists.

The barriers to women’s giving have proven to be tough and tall. They haven’t changed all that much — or nearly enough — over the past decade.

I believe much of this stems from women’s attitudes toward money. We don’t like to own financial decisions. We’re often uncomfortable being in control of money. We frequently spend and save without any plan at all.

The emotional and psychological sides of money for women rate scant attention. Instead, the fuss and focus typically goes to the rules of personal finances, to investing and budgeting, to issues of asset allocation and growing the portfolio.

Sure, all that’s critical, but those topics still seem to occupy all the air in rooms about money. The emotional side gets lost. But money and means aren’t merely the paper stuff we use to buy and sell things. Money also represents emotions and values that we learn from our families, our bosses, the culture and that we internalize. We all bring individual agendas, histories, fantasies, expectations and anxieties to our financial transactions.

Certainly, we’re a society in transition about male and female roles, yet many of the timeworn stereotypes still hold true in the financial arena. This doesn’t apply to all women and all men, of course, but generally speaking: Women take care. Men take charge.

We’re still living with stereotypes of male and female roles – men are the Tom Cruise or Matt Damon types who go off and have adventures and find treasure. For women, money is what keeps us safe. It’s the anchor and future that comes along with Prince Charming. Among other gender-based characteristics, men look at money as a spigot, something they can control and turn on and off. Women see money as a pool that is finite and can be used up, drained. That’s not altogether off base, because women do earn less than men throughout their lives. Women are in and out of the workforce taking care of children and relatives. So women have less income and less for retirement. In fact, two thirds of American adults who live below the poverty line are women — that’s two out of every three. Men do have more control over the faucet of money.

As women, we must therefore wrestle with the idea that money represents security and how we can find the will and the comfort level to use the money for the things that have meaning for us. Money is power.

And because that’s true, society is not kind to women with wealth. Society is uneasy when women take up the reins of power. Most of the time, images of women who wield money and power in media, in movies, on TV, are depicted as bitchy or indulgent, undeserving or just plain dumb. Of course, men with wealth, are viewed as smart, hardworking, attractive, accomplished and powerful, you know like Michael Bloomberg or Bill Gates. They’re players.

Women need to become players too.