As an outcome of the conference on “Women in Science, Innovation and Technology in the Digital Age” held in Budapest on 8-10 March 2011, a Gender Action Plan (“GAP”) was drawn up by the European Center for Women in Technology, DG INFSO and others, which reflects the interests of women as key stakeholders in the Digital Agenda for Europe.
In the lead up to the first-ever Digital Assembly for the Digital Agenda, digital working groups were created to research and write recommendations on the eight focus areas of the Gender Action Plan for the DAE. The findings of each of the working groups was presented on 17 June 2011 in the “Women for Smart Growth” workshop at the Digital Assembly. A report from this workshop will be available online soon for consultation and feedback.
As Belgian National Point of Contact for the ECWT, CEO of Zen Digital Europe, and a founding board member of Greenlightforgirls.org, I had the honor of representing the digital working group on “Women Role Models in the Digital Age” to the Digital Agenda Assembly. On the basis of input and work from more than 100 individuals, mostly women, who contributed to the focus area “awareness building, role models, films, television, video games and the World Expo 2015 in Milan,” I presented the following recommendations to the conference:
- Create a pan-European initiative to research, create benchmarks for, study and report on progress, and actively support programs promoting “women in (digital) media” broadly, and “positive women role models in (digital) media” specifically;
- Support initiatives that promote real female role models (in STEM) directly to young girls; and
- Support projects that promote real and fictional female role models (in STEM) to society-at-large, especially children, specifically girls, via all media channels: books & magazines, TV, cartoons, comics, video games, films, events, online, mobile apps, etc.
These recommendations were reached on the basis of a pilot survey carried out by the Women Role Models working group whose findings are corroborated in wider research on the subject of “women and media” around the world. Specifically, our research indicated that:
- There is a shortage of women* role models in society;
- Girls need women role models;
- We need more success stories about women in media;
- We need better stories about women, real & fictional, in all media;
- The Educational System, Media & Society do a bad job of promoting
female role models; and
- Digital media present an opportunity for creating & promoting female role models.
Add to this context the appalling global statistics on pursuit of STEM studies and careers by girls, and you have a clear problem scenario which could seemingly be addressed with more and better promotion of female role models in STEM to girls via all available media channels. Given the precarious state of things, this could even form the basis of a proactive strategy to empower girls and give them the tools they need to save the world, as I personally believe they will.
From our research, it is clear that females are shockingly under-represented, stereotyped and over-sexualized in all media, including digital, today. Eye-opening statistics include the following:
- In all TV and films, male characters outnumber female characters 2 to 1, even in crowd scenes;
=> The Pixar Phenomenon: In 16 years of producing 12 well-loved, global, block-buster movies, Disney-Pixar has never made a movie with a female lead character. [NB: They will release a movie with a female lead this month. She is a princess.]
- In children’s books, male lead characters outnumber female lead characters 2 to 1, even in animal books; and
- Females are hyper-sexualized and otherwise represented as one of three gender stereotypes in television and film.
It is also clear from our research that digital media present a huge opportunity for creating and promoting positive female role models (in STEM) facing all members of society, but for children, and girls, in particular.
This is possible because:
- Deployment of the Digital Agenda for Europe means greater penetration of digital media (TV, movies, online content, etc.) in the daily lives of all of us;
- Women already dominate the digital media landscape; and
- Young women are influenced in their study direction by positive women role models, in films and TV–media which are increasingly delivered digitally.
=> “The CSI Effect”: Research found that 51% of young women enrolled in Bio-engineering studies at the University of Oslo had been positively influenced by television and film in choosing their study direction.
To address problems facing “women in media,” we can take our cue from the CSI Effect and focus on the opportunities that greater use of digital media promises, and as will be delivered in practice by the Digital Agenda for Europe.
Our digital working group members will attempt do this by formalizing and scaling initiatives which promote our group’s recommendations in Europe (and beyond!), and by exploiting existing platforms, like the EIGE and ECWT, whose mission already embodies the vision and priorities identified in our recommendations.
Please stay tuned here for further word on how we fare with our seminal initiatives to promote “women in media” in Europe, and thank you again for continuing to engage with us on this topic in our digital working group on “Women Role Models in the Digital Age” going forward!
*NB: I use the terms “women” and “female” here interchangeably. I would use the term “women” exclusively, but I also want to emphasize the importance of “girl” and “young girl” role models, as well, for which the term “ female” may be more suitable. “Women” is therefore never used here with the intent to exclude young/er women and girls. In the same sense, I always use the term “girls” in an inclusive sense, as well — in general, referring to “girls of all ages,” i.e. women too. 😉