Wonder Woman Arrives

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on May 25th, 2017

May 25th, 2017. I’ve only been waiting for this day since I was eleven years old. What day exactly is it you might ask? It’s the day that Wonder Woman finally makes it to the big screen. If you’re thinking, “Jacki, the film opens on June 2nd” you would be right, but the opening night in Los Angeles is on May 25th, today, and I will be there. And yes, I am over the moon about that.

Earlier this week I shared something I wrote many years ago about my obsession with Wonder Woman. About how I quit my job at Goldman Sachs to, in part, write a superhero screenplay. Well that did not happen, but it is kind of spooky how much of the narrative for my made up screenplay has manifested itself in real life. But that is not what this post is about. This post is about the history of the film that I will be seeing TONIGHT. And for those of you who are thinking, “What does this have to do with business?”, let me assure you, this film is big business!

Warner Brothers first began development on a Wonder Woman film back in 2001 at the dawn of the superhero boom in cinemas, and since then we’ve had three Spider Mans, two Batmans, two Supermans, and 14 Marvel movies and counting. Hollywood has also managed to make a whopping nine movies featuring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, but no Wonder Woman. Until now. Sure she popped up last year for about 10 minutes to be the only good part of the otherwise dreary Batman vs Superman, but it is not until tonight that she gets her own story. I will finally get to watch my favourite superhero kick ass across the big screen.

I would love nothing more for Wonder Woman’s opening weekend to break records as the largest opening weekend in history, but I’m pretty sure nothing can touch Star Wars at this point, so I’m going to settle for something even better. I want this movie to be the one that puts Hollywood executives on notice that they can no longer ignore the buying power of women. I want women, and men, but especially women to show up en mass and prove to Hollywood (again!) that female fronted content is a lucrative business. I want to remind these executives that we are currently living through a golden age of content creation, with over 400 scripted television shows and counting currently available to viewers, meaning it gets harder and harder every day to convince people to get up off the couch and head to the cinema. According to the MPAA, women make up more than half of moviegoers and buy more than half the tickets, so with their entire business model dependent on wooing customers away from Netflix binge marathons, Hollywood can continue to ignore women at their own peril.

I’ve long been an advocate of shopping your values and using your spending dollars to support the causes and issues most dear to you, and equal representation onscreen happens to be one of mine. The research shows that only 29% of protagonists in 2016 films were women, and only 32% of all speaking parts belonged to women. Yet a quick scroll through the cast list of Wonder Woman reveals the opposite, as the overwhelming majority of its cast members are female, so hopefully this film will help bring 2017’s overall score closer to parity.

However, it’s not just in front of the camera where Wonder Woman is going against the grain in Hollywood. Wonder Woman is a DC property, and DC Entertainment is currently headed by a woman, Diane Nelson, and the film is being directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins. Girl power! In an industry where only 4% of the top 100 grossing films of 2016 were directed by women, this is a big step in the right direction to have a female director for one of the most high profile releases of the year. Especially considering this is only the second time in history that a female director has been given a budget of over $100 million. Furthermore, early indications online indicate that not only is Wonder Woman the first female fronted superhero film since 2005’s Elektra, but it is also the best female fronted superhero film ever. Some are even calling it the best DCEU film to date.  These early reviews are great news, because Wonder Woman  has a lot riding on its release, and I’m thrilled that she appears to be rising to the pressure.

So what can you do? Support this film. Not only show up on opening night, but pre-buy your tickets and help make its opening weekend numbers as big as possible. I am doing my part by partnering with a friend and fellow Wonder Woman Fan, and effectively buying out a 300+ theater in Salt Lake City on June 1st. Yes, it is possible to do that. If buying out a theater sounds a little extreme, then just buy a ticket, in advance, and invite your friends to do the same. Easy right? Then go do it. Now. Then use the hashtag #WWParty and join the party on TWITTER. Come on people, let’s make the hashtag trend.

To Wonder Women everywhere, this is my call to arms. It’s a call to everyone, but in particular, I’m calling out to women that this is the one to show up for. Even if superheroes aren’t your thing, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you would like to see more women on the big screen and more talented women directors having their shot at $100 million+ budgets.

So how did I get myself to the premiere you might ask? One of my dearest friends made a request of one of her friends who works at DC Comics. She said that her “friend, Jacki, is one of the biggest Wonder Woman fans there is and has been waiting her whole life to see her on the big screen.” True That. I am, and I am so grateful. It is a dream come true.

If you jump over to my personal blog and search for Wonder Woman you will see over 20 posts I have done on the subject over the past 8 years. Yes that is me all dressed up. At this point it should not surprise you that I collect WW memorabilia.

Why No Wonder Woman?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on May 23rd, 2017.

“The destiny of the world is determined less by battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in” – Harold Goddard.

What follow is the opening letter to a 70 page report I did 4 years ago called “Why No Wonder Woman?” Given that we will indeed have the first feature film for this character on June 2nd, I thought this was the time to repost these words. It shares my love for the character and what she has meant to me. 

I believe in the story of Wonder Woman. I always have. Not the literal baby being made from clay story, but the metaphorical one. I believe in a story where a woman is the hero and not the victim. I believe in a story where a woman is strong and not weak. Where a woman can fall in love with a man, but she doesnʼt need a man. Where a woman can stand on her own two feet. And above all else, I believe in a story where a woman has superpowers that she uses to help others, and yes, I believe that a woman can help save the world.

“Wonder Woman was created as a distinctly feminist role model whose mission was to bring the Amazon ideals of love, peace, and sexual equality to ʻa world torn by the hatred of men.ʼ”

While the story of Wonder Woman began back in 1941, I did not discover her until much later, and my introduction didnʼt come at the hands of comic books. Instead, when I was a little girl I used to watch the television show starring Lynda Carter, and the animated television series, Super Friends. Like so many other little girls I wanted to be Wonder Woman. I twirled, I lassoed the bad guys, I pretended I had an invisible plane, and I dressed up in that iconic costume.

But then Wonder Woman went off the air, and I forgot about her and went on with my life. Or so I thought. I fearlessly rode horses. I started working at age 14. I graduated top of my class from high school. I became a Canadian Junior Body-Building Champion. I got into an elite program at the University of British Columbia that allowed me to become the first undergraduate recruit from the school to be hired at Goldman Sachs in New York. And in 1996, I became the youngest woman and first female trader to be made partner at Goldman Sachs. I also became a wife and a mother of two. I was busy trying to become my own kind of Wonder Woman. One who had a successful career, served her family, was there for her friends, and gave back to her community.

It was at the height of my struggle to try to balance it all that I rediscovered Wonder Woman. The year was 2001. At the time, I was working in Goldmanʼs executive office reporting directly to the most senior leaders of the firm on issues relating to the firmʼs culture, diversity, compensation, promotion, retention, and most importantly, leadership. I became obsessed with the concept of leadership, and I would devour anything that was written on this topic. One such piece was an article written by Tom Peters in Fast Company Magazine called “50 Rules of Leadership”. It became my favorite, and I would pass it along to anyone and everyone because it represented diverse, creative, and bold thinking. Peters left one rule blank, and invited readers to submit their own rule of leadership. I sat there trying to determine what was missing, and for whatever reason a thought popped into my head: “Be a Superhero.” The leadership principle followed and this is how it read.

“Remember what it was like to jump out of bed on those Saturday mornings so you could rush to turn on the TV to get another dose of Superman, Batman, or in my case, Wonder Woman! These characters inspired us to change the world and to do the right thing. To fight evil wherever it reared its ugly head. To be an example, and yet hid your true identity because it was not about personal glory. They never asked, “What is in it for me?” They never let the bad stuff get them down. They had a job to do and damn it they approached it with absolute enthusiasm and discipline. Be a superhero!”

I typed up this statement and shared my idea with a colleague. She added some great visuals of superheroes to my new motto, including Wonder Woman, and I proudly displayed the finished product on my desk. Wonder Woman was back in my life, and this time, she was here to stay. From that moment on, whenever I was facing challenges at work, at home, or in life in general, I would think to myself, BE A SUPERHERO JACKI. BE A WONDER WOMAN. Not THE Wonder Woman, A Wonder Woman.

At this point my story becomes very, very long, and one day I plan to tell it in all its detail. It is the story of the past 11 years of my life, years that began with Wonder Woman inspiring me to leave Goldman Sachs in 2002 to pursue a different path. She has been with me, guiding me, and manifesting herself in the countless women with whom I have come to know and love and collaborate. Wonder Woman has been with me as I discovered and then pursued my personal destiny to use my time, my treasure, and my talent to create a more gender balanced world. A world where women, WOMEN, are more equally represented in positions of power and influence, and to encourage women to use all of their resources, including financial, to help other women and the world in general.

Pursuing this destiny has taken me on quite the journey, a journey that has brought me to where I am now, serving as the Chief Engagement Officer of Women Moving Millions (WMM). WMM is a community of nearly 200 people who have given gifts of $1million or more to organizations or initiatives that work on behalf of women and girls. Our mission is to mobilize unprecedented resources for the advancement of women and girls. We work for justice, for peace, for love, and for our world that has been torn apart. Moreover, I know that I will never stop fighting for what I know in my heart and head to be true, that a more gender balanced world is a better world for everyone.

I am also a past and current board and advisory board member of many, many womenʼs organizations and networks. Increasingly, my service and funding has gone towards driving collaborations, collective impact, and more and more, towards film. Through Impact Partners, and now Gamechangers, a feature film fund for women directors, I am leveraging my resources to shape and influence popular culture, because I know it matters. I believe that “we cannot be what we cannot see.”

What is missing from all of this is a film to inspire us. What is missing is a superhero film that has a WOMAN in the lead. What is missing in a world full of wonder women, is THE Wonder Woman.

In the 11 years since I left Goldman Sachs this film has never left my mind. It started with an idea for the story, and from there I took a screenwriting course, I founded a film production company, I met with film people, and I tried to figure out how we could get this done. To this day I clip articles and jot down ideas, and I stick them all in a giant plastic box with a label that reads WONDER WOMAN MOVIE. I thought my destiny was to eventually write the screenplay, or get involved with the movie in some capacity. I reasoned that this was why a film had failed to materialize; it was waiting for me!

The fact of the matter is that no, it is not waiting for me. It is waiting for us. It is waiting for Wonder Woman fans like you and me to stand up and demand a great film that will inspire a new generation of girls to be all that they can be. Just like the Wonder Woman of the 1970s did for me. Just like she has done for so many other women. Right now I have a 13 year old daughter and 16 year old son, and they have both grown up in an era where superheroes are everywhere in pop culture. These characters provide entertainment and escapism at a time when the world is in turmoil, and they allow us all to imagine what we could do for this world if we had superpowers. Whether we like it or not, superheroes are role models, and so far the only role models my children have seen at the cinema are male. Enough is enough.

My frustration with the absence of Wonder Woman on screen led me to the creation of this report. I wanted to chart Wonder Womanʼs history in all forms of media and prove just how far her influence reaches. Contained in the report is a brief summary of her storyline, the history of Wonder Womanʼs film development, the various other mediums in which she has appeared, and a chart outlining the history of superhero stories on screen, as well as the budgets and grosses of these films. Over two years in the making, I chose April 15th, 2013 as the date for this reportʼs release because it is the same day as the release of Kristy Guevara-Flanaganʼs documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines on PBS. As this film demonstrates, I am not alone in my frustration for more female role models in the media.

So here is my request to the powers that be who have the decision making power over the future of Wonder Woman on the big screen. Please hire the most amazing feminist writer you can find to write the screenplay. Before she sits down to write, have her meet with the feminist leaders of our world. Women like Gloria Steinem, who happens to be a Wonder Woman expert. Women like Hillary Clinton, Musimbi Kanyoro, Leymah Gbowee, Carol Gilligan, Marion Write Edelman, Helen LaKelly Hunt, Abigail Disney, Eve Ensler; the list goes on and on. And yes, me, I would very much like to sit in on one of those meetings too.

Above all else, please do this right and honor the fact that you are not just making another movie; you are creating a film that could change the world. Wonder Woman changed mine.

May this closing quote serve as your inspiration:

“If ever the world sees a time when women will come together purely for the good of humanity, it will be a power as the world has never seen.” – Matthew Arnold, circa 1800

Now thatʼs superpower! Respectfully yours,

Jacki Zehner

A Passionate Wonder Woman Fan

Girls and Tech – Houston We Have A Problem

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on May 5th, 2017.

Last week I wrote about my incredible experience at the 2017 Kairos Global Summit, an event that brought together seasoned professionals with emerging entrepreneurs. I was invited to present a problem to these up and coming entrepreneurs that needs a solution, and the problem I chose was the gender gap in the technology industry today. With over 532,000 currently unfilled tech jobs in the United States alone, this is an important issue for many reasons, but I asked this question specifically because I wanted these young entrepreneurs to think about the talent they will require to bring their ideas to fruition, and how this lack of skilled workers could seriously impede their progress and innovation. This isn’t just a “women’s issue”. The lack of skilled technology workers in this country is estimated to rise to nearly two million unfilled jobs by 2020, a scenario that could have dire consequences for the economy, and constitute a huge hit to our potential GDP. Given how grossly underrepresented women are in this industry, an easy solution would be to simply recruit more women, but like most things in life, it’s not that easy.

In looking at the problem of women in tech, there are two main factors behind this phenomenon: 1) the pipeline issue, and 2) the brain drain once women have begun their careers. Today, I want to talk about the pipeline, and how young girls are systematically discouraged from pursuing careers in STEM. To work in certain areas of technology, a person needs to be educated with a specific skill set, and in looking at the statistics, the educational systems in the United States are failing our girls from a very young age.

According to Girls Who Code, 66% of girls aged 6-12 are interested in taking computer science classes. That’s two thirds of our young girls who are interested in learning about technology. Sadly, despite 9 out 10 parents wanting their kids to learn computer science, only 1 in 4 schools offer these courses, and at the high school level these numbers are even worse. In 2015, just over 4,300 schools offered the AP Computer Science course out of the approximately 42,000 high schools in the US, and of the nearly 49,000 students taking the exam in 2015, only 22% were girls.

By the time girls leave high school and become college freshmen, the number of them interested in taking computer science courses has now dropped from 66% to just 4%. Of the two million unfilled jobs expected by 2020, approximately 1.4 million of them will require computing skills, and given the numbers above, it’s hardly a surprise that women are expected to fill only 3% of those jobs. 3%! I hope that’s a number that will make people sit up and take notice, because we simply can’t afford to ignore this issue any longer. The pervasiveness of technology and the need for workers with technological skills will only increase in the years to come, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to encourage young people to pursue these careers. ALL young people.

Clearly young girls are being left behind in this department, and with only 18% of today’s computer science graduates being women, a radical intervention is needed to steer more young women down this path. Thankfully, there are numerous organizations out there who are doing just that. I encourage everyone, especially those with daughters, to check out these programs and seriously consider how they can benefit the young girls in your life. Most of these are non-profit organizations so your philanthropic support is also much needed. I not have personal experience with the programs below, but they look amazing.

Starting girls on a path to computer science has to start early, so if you’re looking for programs that cater to young girls, please check out Girls Who Code.

Girls Who Code – Founded in 2012, Girls Who Code aims to close the gender gap in technology by encouraging young girls to pursue a career in computing. Girls Who Code offers club programs for girls in 6th through 12th grade, as well as summer programs for girls in 10th and 11th grade that offer valuable exposure to the possibilities of a career in tech. The founder of this organization, Reshma Saujani, is coming to Utah in just a few weeks and I am so looking forward to sitting down with her to discuss this issue in more depth. From what I hear, this woman is an absolute rock star!

Middle School is where girls’ interest in STEM dramatically drops off, so to keep young girls interested, please look into these incredible programs.

ProjectCSGIRLS – ProjectCSGIRLS is a nonprofit organization aimed to cultivate a love for technology and computer science in girls and encourage them to pursue their interests and careers in these fields. This program believes that nurturing an interest in science, math, and technology during the critical middle school period will help them to better see themselves as the future leaders of tomorrow. ProjectCSGirls aims to do this through a unique idea – the nation’s largest computer science competition for middle school girls. It is run by high school and college students from around the country who are incredibly passionate about computer science and technology.

Tech Trek – Girls find their passion for high-tech careers at AAUW’s Tech Trek camps. Through hands-on problem solving and encounters with women role models in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), Tech Trek helps girls see their futures while having nonstop fun. Since 1998, AAUW has helped change girls’ lives through Tech Trek, an experiential summer camp backed by research and designed to make STEM exciting and accessible to girls in middle school — the age when research shows girls’ participation in these fields drops. For many girls, the weeklong camp sparks their curiosity and places them on a path toward success.

Technovation – Technovation offers girls around the world the opportunity to learn the necessary skills to become tech entrepreneurs and leaders. Girls ages 10 to 18 learn to identify a problem in their community and create a mobile app solution to address that problem, and then learn how to communicate these ideas and translate them into a fully launched business.

Finally, once a young girl is firmly on the path towards a career in computer sciences, she will need a lot of support, encouragement, and mentorship along the way. For incredible resources in this department, look no further than these wonderful programs.

NASA Girls – NASA Girls is a virtual mentoring program using commercially available video chat programs to pair NASA mentors with young students anywhere in the country. NASA Girls gives young students the opportunity to interact and learn from real engineers, scientists, and technologists. There are so many different fields and NASA wants to show you how they all contribute to science, technology, engineering, and math.

TechGirls – TechGirls is an international summer exchange program designed to empower and inspire young girls from the Middle East and North Africa to pursue careers in science and technology. The centerpiece of the program is a weeklong technology camp that provides participants with an in-depth examination of technology-related topics, such as Java C++ programming, and engages them in 45+ hours of hands-on instruction. The camp is complemented by additional activities such as site visits to technology companies, leadership clinics, community service opportunities, job shadowing, and cultural events. As part of program follow-on, the TechGirls implement at least one peer training program or service project within their schools and/or communities.

For more information about women in technology, please refer to my Top 400 Reports on Women and Girls to view numerous studies in this area. And please continue to support the girls in your life who show an interest in STEM careers. The strength of our economy depends on them.

Please continue to share your ideas on this subject in the comment section.