What’s so odd about odd numbers?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on December 29th, 2017.

holiday season. It’s the time of year when many people take time off to be with family and friends. Unless, that is, you are a high school senior and are busy finishing up your college applications for that January 1st deadline. I have one of those, a high school senior, and for the past few months I have watched her write countless essays on subjects ranging from the person she would most like to have dinner with, to what makes her special, to the toughest situation she has ever been in, and much, much more. What a joy it has been to read them. You think you know your child, but I have truly learned so much about her throughout this process.

This process also sheds light on the institutions asking the questions themselves. While many of the supplemental questions are similar, some schools really do stand out. Stand apart. Their questions are not the old standbys, but rather provide a glimpse into their culture. It has made me think about job interview questions, and about how a company can stand out, stand apart, by the nature of the questions they ask potential employees.

One of best set of questions came from The University of Chicago. Although my daughter did not apply there, my son did a few years back. The question was, “What is so odd about odd numbers?” His answer is below.

Infinite

Twenty-Six and Ninety-Eight are playing beer pong, cheered on by a huge group, while a couple of the Twenties are off smoking on the porch. Everyone is having a great time except for Nine. Nine is sitting off in the corner. He never liked this type of party. He’s only here because Six and Twelve decided that he should come and dragged him along, not that they are paying attention to him anyway. Twelve is deep in conversation with her friends Eighty and Forty-Four, while Six is off hitting on some ‘-teen.’

Nine isn’t in his element. He likes to dance down the stairwell to Childish Gambino music on study breaks while most people are out having fun on their Saturday nights. Nine doesn’t go out of his way to hang out with friends every weekend, because he could be building a new cellblock in Prison Architect or playing piano.

Get some Odds together, and they will always act like a couple of Evens. Watching how Nine just lets it all go at a school dance with Seven when the DJ is plays some dubstep with a sick drop, it is easy to mistake him for Four. But at a party full of Evens, he still feels out of place.

Maybe the Odds are out of place; outsiders destined to look through a frosty window into the warm hearth of fitting in. These numbers are destined to be the odd man out. Are the Evens threatened because the Odds refuse to be normalized? Is thinking differently and challenging established concepts insanity? Nine doesn’t fit into traditional parties, because the status quo perceives him as more of a change agent than his Even counterparts. Evens, by their very nature, don’t like change. If you add/subtract/multiply/divide them, you get another Even. They find comfort in their consistency.

Nine prefers to be quiet. He is often deep in thought or only speaks to specific people, because he doesn’t care about his own image or public perception. What Nine really cares about is contemplating how the world works so he can change the order of operations for the better. As such, Nine would gladly trade repute for a worthy conversation.

Nine is additionally odd because he doesn’t identify with any particular political party. He refuses to change his values because a party plank tells him to do so. He is more interested in the subtraction of corruption, normalization of geek culture, modification of gun policy, and development of new technologies than he is of labels. Nine thinks differently and is open to the concept of zeroing in and destroying a current establishment in favor of creating a better time-invariant system. It is dangerous to be this radical, even if a large fraction (one half) of us are. It is dangerous to want to change the world. Odds like Nine are odd because they hold terrifying potential, and, if evenly distributed, Odds could have infinite power.

Shop Your Values 2017

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on December 7th, 2017.

It’s that time of the year again. The time of year when your to do list seems to triple in size, your evenings are filled with parties and gatherings, and you eat way too much delicious food and sneak that extra mug of eggnog. Yes, the holiday season is in full swing, which means once again I’m on the hunt for the perfect gift for the special people in my life. Not just the perfect gift for them, but the perfect gift from me. I’ve long since advocated for shopping your values and using your purchasing power as a tool for social change, and every year around the holidays I get to put this into practice even more than usual. I love giving gifts and presents to those I hold most dear, but I also love that these gifts can be more than just beautiful necklaces, scarves, cufflinks and handbags. I make a concerted effort to purchase handmade products made by incredible female artisans around the world, and these purchases in turn support their businesses and economic empowerment. I love that in giving these gifts, the recipients become a part of my passion for advancing women and girls.

Every year Women Moving Millions releases a Shop Your Values guide in time for the holiday season, and earlier this week the 2017 version was unveiled. It’s filled with incredible organizations who are supporting women artisans around the globe and offering for sale a wide variety of products, and this guide will allow you to complete all of your holiday shopping from the comfort of your own home. No need to take your life in your hands by venturing into a mall this close to Christmas. Below is a sampling of the featured online shops, but there are dozens more listed in the guide. To view the full list, please click HERE.

GEMS By The Foot – Made with genuine gemstones, Gems by the Foot lets you customize your order by wire choice, stone selection, and length. Jewelry can be worn as necklaces or bracelets and are ideal to layer, collect, and gift. 10% of net profits from your purchase benefits refugee women and their families through the International Rescue Committee Dallas. Co-founded by Women Moving Millions (WMM) member Elizabeth Carlock Phillips.

Unleashed – Unleashed is a pending 501(c)(3) non-profit media organization that focuses on helping female craft artisans globally. They connect award-winning producers and directors with artisan collectives to create compelling visual stories and open access to market. Through its content series, Unleashed promotes artisan craftwork and creates business opportunities for those women who do not have the voice or platform on their own. Co-founded by WMM member Kara Ross, pictured to the left.

 

NOMI Network – An organization creating economic opportunities for women at risk and survivors of human trafficking by equipping them with skills to produce goods for the global market place. Nomi Network provides entrepreneurship, leadership and technical skills to women to improve the design and quality of the products they produce. They sell a variety of products including a tote bag that says, “Buy her bag and not her body.” We partnered with NOMI to produce our conference totes for Utah Wonder Women and they were beautiful. Photo is of the three CoFounders Diana Mao, Alissa Ayako Williams and Supei Liu.

Same Sky – A trade-not aid- jewelry initiative that employs and empowers HIV-positive women in Africa as artisans. Trained as artisans, SAME SKY women earn 15 to 20 times the average Sub Saharan wage by hand crocheting beautiful glass bead jewelry. Sold online and in stores like Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, these beautiful pieces are stylish and support a fantastic cause! I am proud to be one of their Ambassadors. Photo with Founder and WMM member Francine Lefrak.

Finally, if you can’t find what you’re looking for in any of the shops listed in our guide, I encourage you to head over to The Little Market to continue your search there. Operating as a nonprofit charitable organization, The Little Market is an online fair trade shop founded by Lauren Conrad and Hannah Skvarla where customers can purchase beautiful products handmade by artisans around the world. The Little Market also provides design insights, helping sales partners to showcase their traditional skills and cultural techniques to a broader audience. The Little Market practices fair trade principles, and every purchase from The Little Market generates meaningful income for the artisans and their families. With such a wide range of products for sale, you’ll be able to find that perfect gift for everyone on your list this year without a doubt.

If you know of an organization that should be included in next year’s guide please let me know in the comments below. In the meantime, I’m wishing you and your loved ones a very merry holiday season!

Girls – Missing and Marginalized

 As published on LinkedIn Influencers on November 17th, 2017.

I’ve been thinking a lot about girls lately, because as the lead funder and champion of last week’s SUREFIRE Girls Conference in Salt Lake City, it’s been hard not to. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the power within the younger generation; a generation emboldened by technology, striving for change, and more socially conscious than any other generation that has come before them. Today, it’s estimated that there are 1.1 billion girls in the world, and I truly believe that if we, the older generations, do everything in our power to ensure that these girls have all of the available opportunities, resources, and tools for success that we can possibly give them, these girls will change the world and change the world for the better. Last week at SUREFIRE, I saw our future leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs in action, and with these girls at the helm, the future looks bright indeed.

However, these girls can’t do it alone, and more than anything, they need mentors, role models, and champions to help them navigate this world that is frustratingly still so far away from gender parity. Which is why the focus on girls. While sociologists are only beginning to get an idea of the traits and characteristics of Generation Z, one thing is clear: this is a generation defined by culture, creativity, and storytelling. 80% of young people say that creativity is important to their daily life, and it is estimated that fully 25% of Generation Z post original video content online on a daily basis. Young people aren’t just influencing culture, they are creating it, but you would never know this from watching traditional media, especially when it comes to young girls. In particular, a new study released last week in conjunction with SUREFIRE paints a pretty bleak picture of the landscape of young girls’ representation in feature film.

Titled The Future is Female?: Examining the Prevalence and Portrayal of Girls and Teens in Popular Movies, this study is the latest research to come from the incomparable Dr. Stacy Smith and her research team at the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative*, and it is the first study of its kind to look specifically at the portrayal of young girls on film. When I invited Dr. Smith to speak at the SUREFIRE Conference, she had the brilliant idea to conduct this study and premiere it live at at the event. It was incredibly powerful to watch the 150+ girls respond to the results. Unsurprisingly, the results are not good. It is a story about underrepresentation, misrepresentation, and in some cases, invisibility.When considering the top 900 grossing films released since 2007 (excluding 2011):

  • Just 12.5% of speaking characters were aged 6-20 when this age bracket comprises 20.4% of the US population in 2010. Only 39.7% of these characters were female.
  • 77% of these characters were white, and when looking specifically at the films released in 2015 and 2016, 89% did not depict a single African American young girl, 92.5% did not depict an Asian American young girl, and 94.5% did not depict a Latina young girl.
  • The young girls in these movies were four times as more likely than the young boys to be depicted wearing revealing attire.
  • 31.7% of young girls were shown in an academic setting, such as in a classroom or doing homework.
  • Only 8.1% of the young female characters had defined academic interests or goals, such as going to college or learning another language, and just 7.3% had stated professional aspirations.
  • See the study for more facts and insights!

These findings go on and on, with very few bright spots in terms of parity, but it should be noted that in 2016, young girls in speaking roles comprised 48.2% of all characters aged 6-20, so we will just have to wait and see if this was just a fluke or the beginning of a new chapter on gender parity among young girls and boys in film.

Regardless, not only do young girls need role models, positive role models, they need to see more of themselves and their communities up on the big screen. When Dr. Smith spoke about female characters in animated roles, she shared that their waist size is often the same size as the circumference of their upper arms. Why? Seriously, WHY? At SUREFIRE we put up stickers on the bathroom mirrors that said, “YOU ARE AWESOME.” They did not go on to say, “but only if you are white, thin, sexually provocative, and define yourself by your relationships with males.” Unfortunately, this is still the primary messaging they receive from feature films. Enough. Seriously, ENOUGH!

Young girls are consuming pop culture at an astonishing rate, but it is clear from this study that when it comes to the film industry, pop culture is failing our young girls at almost every metric. One of the most egregious examples of this is the finding that in the top 900 grossing films of the past decade, not one single film contained a speaking role for a LGBT girl. Not one. A recent study revealed that only 48% of young people in the US aged 13-20 identified as exclusively straight, and yet in the past ten years, there were only four characters in this age bracket that identified otherwise, and not one of them was a girl.

I can only hope that the incredible work that Dr. Smith and her team continue to produce year after year will bring about not just awareness, but real action to change who is featured in film. I have seen the power of young girls and I have glimpsed the potential of this power at SUREFIRE and at the Girl Up Conference in Washington, DC. I know we have at least one feature film to look forward to in the coming year, A Wrinkle in Time, directed by the incredible Ava DuVernay. In fact, Ava created a special message for our girls which we delivered following Dr. Smith’s presentation. If you do not know Ava and her work, you must. She is talented, brilliant, and a social justice warrior. And on twitter…1.25 million followers. @ava

A quick plug, because it is going to be AWESOME, note that A Wrinkle in Timecomes out March 9th, 2018, and features an incredible cast of women, including Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, and Reese Witherspoon.

Now why this story for LinkedIn? Because this is both a business issue and a social change issue. On the business side, we need to let Hollywood know that it is not ok to misrepresent our girls by using the power of our wallets. It’s easy. Simply stop buying tickets to the films that tell our girls that their only assets are their looks and their sexuality. On the social change side, this is yet another example of how females and other groups are underrepresented or misrepresented in the media and this has to change. Do you believe that it is hard to be what you cannot see? I do. So let’s all take an interest in what our films and our culture tell our girls to be.

Looking for more research on how women, girls and other underrepresented populations are represented in film and media, check out my best reports list.

*Thanks to Ann Lovell who funded this study with me.