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.


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

“Do you find me attractive? If we were not working together would you date me?” This was supposed to be a work dinner, one I had tried to avoid for months. I tried to avoid it because I was warned by other women not to go, but I felt I had to. Correction, he made it clear to me that I had to go if I wanted to continue to have a future at Goldman Sachs. What did I know as a twenty-something in the 1990s that could prepare me for a master manipulator who had decades of experience on how to mess with young women’s heads? Nothing. Even knowing what I know now, nothing prepares you for that. Even as I type this now I feel like I am going to vomit. I don’t feel empowered, I feel sick. I feel scared. I feel ashamed. And yes, I feel angry.

I did not want to post this. Ask my friends who keep texting, messaging, and emailing me, asking me if I am going to share my #MeToo. I didn’t want to go there, again, as I have so many times before. But the bravery of countless women won’t let me be silent, and particularly the one whose story my daughter read to me yesterday in the car ride home. This young girl wrote a long post about her sexual assault, about feeling broken, about searching for wholeness, and I woke up at 4am crying. My life’s work has become about women’s empowerment, inclusion, and advancement, and in my gut I know that anything even close to gender equity will never happen in a culture wrought with silence and shame, victim blaming and bystanderism. Never.

“Tell me about your boyfriends,” it continued. Immediately, I flashed back to an earlier conversation we had had at a work group outing a while earlier. He had pulled me into a chair beside me and asked me to go out with him, alone, to talk about my career. I deflected, and said that perhaps a group outing would make better use of his precious time. He responded with, “What is your problem? Do you think I am attracted to you? Not only am I not attracted to you, but I don’t understand why any man would be attracted to you.” I remember it like it was yesterday.

Back at the work dinner, I ate as fast as I could. I deflected, tried to get the conversation back to being about work. When it did, it became about how much he could help me and mentor me, about how people at the firm did not think I was very smart, but he could help. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. He drank the wine and I barely touched my glass despite the insistence to “drink up”.

When we left the restaurant and walked outside I moved quickly to hail a taxi. His car was waiting for him and he all but pushed me into the backseat. I immediately announced my address to the driver, but we did not head downtown. When we pulled up in from of his place, he insisted we have a drink inside to talk more about my career. I said no, firmly, again and again. He was now outside the car trying to pull me out, and I was hanging onto the door handle on the other side. No. No. No. Finally, the driver intervened and said, “I am happy to drive the young lady home.” The door slammed in my face.

As we drove away I was shaking so violently and crying so hard the driver did not know what to do. The driver remembered my address, pulled up to the door, and said, “I’m sorry.” All night I sat up thinking about how I could possibly to go to work the next day. I wanted to call my mom, but she lived thousands of miles away and she would feel powerless as well. Was my career really over before it even really got started? At the time I thought the answer was yes.

I did go back to work. I did go on to have a successful career. I never had anything that scary happen to me again, but I was a different person after that night. Did I report him? No. Did I later learn he went on to do something similar, and worse, to other young women? Yes. Will I ever forgive myself for not reporting him? No.

There are people out there who will tell you that sexual harassment isn’t a problem. They will tell you that the issue was pretty much fixed in 1991 with the Anita Hill hearings, and since then we’ve been living in a paradise utopia where everyone is respected as a person above all else, and no one is ever the recipient of unwanted sexual advances. They will tell you that the idea of sexual harassment as a present day issue is all just a conspiracy brewed up by the liberal media and feminazis, and anyone who says otherwise is just looking for attention and/or money. However, the majority of Americans know this isn’t true. They know this, because the majority of Americans have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetimes. If the past 48 hours tells us anything, it is that this is an issue that is prevalent, widespread, and can affect anyone.

According to the statistics, 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Nearly 30% of all complaints received by the EEOC every year are for sexual harassment, and 17% of these are filed by men. 65% of women and 25% of men have experienced street harassment in their lifetime. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the US will be raped in their lifetime. 1 in 5 female students and 1 in 16 male students at US colleges will be raped in their lifetime. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18 in the United States. 13% of American youth, both male and female, have been exposed to unwanted sexual solicitation online. Are those statistics scary enough? Shocking? Rage-inducing? No? How about this one. Experts estimate that only 30% of all sexual assaults, abuse, and harassment that occur in the United States every year are ever reported, meaning that some of the above numbers are likely much much higher. Is your blood boiling yet?

Maybe not. Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who have managed to skate through life without ever seeing or experiencing any form of unwanted sexual advances, which is amazing. But make no mistake. You are the exception. Not the rule. The statistics show us that sexual harassment happens to everyone; women, men, boys, and girls, and the impact of these crimes is devastating, not just on the victim, but to their friends, family, co-workers, and greater community at large. This is an issue that effects us all.

The issue of sexual harassment has dominated the headlines this past week, and not just because of the revelations about Harvey Weinstein. More and more the headlines are about the epidemic that is sexual harassment and assault in general, and how Harvey Weinstein is just one man in a system designed to allow this to happen. And people are sick of this system. Literally sick. It is time to break it down once and for all, and we may just be at the point where this is possible. More and more victims, both women and men, are coming forward to tell their stories. A simple search online for #MeToo is proof enough of the pervasiveness of this issue. And this is so, so important. You see, as much as the statistics above should horrify you, the truth is that a stat is easily forgotten, but a story lasts forever. If you don’t believe the statistics start asking people you know. Ask them if they have been a victim of unwanted advances, harassment, and/or assault. This behavior has to stop and the first step to creating this positive change is to fully acknowledge that it is happening.

I can’t claim to be an expert on anyone else’s story except my own, so I’m sharing mine at last. I was the victim of sexual harassment. Me too…

For more information about sexual harassment, abuse, and assault, please check out the following websites and studies.

For definitions – See

For EEOC statistics – click here.

For information on street harassment – click here.

For US Department of Justice Statistics – click here.

National Sexual Violence Resource Center – click here.

Report of the Co-Chairs of the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 2016.

Not Alone: The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Center for Disease Control (CDC). 2014.

Sexual Coercion Practices Among Undergraduate Male Recreational Athletes, Intercollegiate Athletes, and Non-Athletes. Sage Journals. 2016.

Girls Girls Girls

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on October 11th, 2017.

It is estimated that right now on earth, there are approximately 1.1 billion girls. Yes. You read that right. 1.1 BILLION girls aged 0-18. They are not only tomorrow’s leaders, scientists, explorers, artists, and innovators, but today’s as well, and their collective power is limitless. Girl Power is not just a catchphrase or a sound bite. It is real, and its impact will be felt around the world. Today, as we celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child, let’s take a moment to reflect on the power of 1.1 billion girls, and how we can equip this next generation with the tools needed to reach their full potential.

The International Day of the Girl Child was first observed on October 11th, 2012, and has since become an annual day of celebration, activism, and awareness, with thousands of events planned all over the world. This year’s theme is “EmPOWER girls: Before, during and after conflict”, and will focus on the stories of adolescent girls around the world facing innumerable challenges as a result of humanitarian crises and the ways they are overcoming these obstacles. It promises to be an incredibly inspiring day, so I encourage you to visit to find an event in your area. Also, if you are interested in the issues facing girls and how to address them visit by BEST REPORTS on women and girls. There are over 25 of the best studies listed.

As for myself, I will be spending the day planning for the upcoming SUREFIRE Girls Conference here in my home state of Utah. On November 11th, girls aged 15-18 will gather together for a very special one-day event created just for them. This event model is the creation of SUREFIRE’s Founder, Heather Mason. Heather runs an event production company that produces large-scale events around the world, including the SKOLL World Forum. She started SUREFIRE because she believes, as I do, that attending amazing gatherings and meeting amazing people at a young age has the potential to be a game-changer. Our Utah girls have the option of being paired up with mentors from Utah’s Wonder Women community, of which I am a proud member and CoFounder. It is unprecedented investment in intergenerational women’s leadership.

Additionally, this conference will play host to an incredible special guest – Sonita Alizadeh. I first met Sonita in 2016 when I had the opportunity to meet her following the premiere of the documentary film about her life, Sonita, at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary. Sonita first gained attention in 2014 with the publication of her music video “Brides for Sale”, and she has since gone on to become a world renowned activist on the issue of ending child marriage and the selling of young girls to men often twice their age. In 2017, the Asia Society recognized Sonita as one of their recipients of their Game Changer Awards, and now we are honored to have her at the SUREFIRE Girls Conference. Overall, this event promises to be an incredible opportunity for Utah’s girls, so if you know of a girl aged 15-18 who would like to attend, please click HERE for more information.

However, statistically speaking, most of you reading this do not know a teenage girl living in Utah, but that doesn’t mean you can’t support International Day of the Girl Child. While there are so many incredible organizations out there working to advance young girls around the world, I would like to single out three, listed below, that are worthy of your support, whether that support is through your time, talent, and/or treasure. And finally, to the 1.1 billion girls out there who are ready to change the world for the better, know that we are here for you and we will work to make this world a more fair and just place for you until you are ready to take over. Happy International Day of the Girl Child everyone; girls and boys, men and women the world over.

Girl Up

Girls are powerful. When they’re educated, healthy, and safe, they transform their communities. When girls stand up for girls in need, they empower each other and transform our world. As the United Nations Foundation’s adolescent girl campaign, Girl Up engages girls to take action. Led by a community of nearly half a million passionate advocates raising awareness and funds, their efforts help the hardest to reach girls living in places where it is hardest to be a girl.

Lower East Side Girls Club

The Lower Eastside Girls Club connects girls and young women to healthy and successful futures. Their state-of-the-art center offers a safe haven with programs in the arts, sciences, leadership, entrepreneurship, and wellness for middle and high school girls.

Girls on the run

Adolescence is a challenging time for girls. Self-confidence and physical activity levels drop while at the same time peer relationships become more complicated. Girls on the Run is a physical activity-based positive youth development program that is designed to enhance girls’ social, psychological and physical skills and behaviors to successfully navigate life experiences. Their mission is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running.

Do you have a favorite organizations that serves girls? Feel free to share it below.