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October 18, 2018

INSIGHTS 2018: Geena Davis on gender bias and being an agent of change

"Gender bias is deeper than we could have ever imagined," Geena Davis told the INSIGHTS audience on Wednesday. Here, highlights from the award-winning actor, athlete, and research institute founder's keynote about being an agent of change.


Academy Award-winning actor, athlete, and research institute founder Geena Davis took the stage at INSIGHTS 2018 on Wednesday to talk about gender bias and equality, both in the media and more broadly in society.

“Media images are profoundly powerful,” she said.

As an example, she cited research findings from her Institute on Gender in Media about the role entertainment media plays in girls' participation in archery. The study, which surveyed members of USA Archery, found that participation rose 86% from 2013 to 2014, with women’s participation increasing 105% during that period of time. This followed the release of popular female-led moviesThe Hunger Games and Brave in 2012.

Women, she added, are given few opportunities to be excited and empowered by female characters on-screen.

Later, she talked about how few female characters there are in movies for kids, and that mothers, for example, are often present for the first five minutes of a film before dying as a plot device.

“If we are to achieve true parity, we must kill off the fathers, too,” she deadpanned to a laughing audience.



Why is this conversation relevant to the world of work? The on-screen opportunities for, and portrayals of, women and female characters illustrates the broad and unconscious gender bias that we continually reinforce in real life.

“Gender bias is deeper than we could have ever imagined,” Davis said. She shared a story of an orchestra that held blind auditions to help eliminate gender bias. This required candidates to play on stage behind a screen, which would increase the likelihood of women advancing to the finals, according to research.

However, jury members were allegedly influenced by the sound of women’s shoes, so the musicians were asked to remove their footwear before walking onto the stage.

“We can achieve parity. You just have to neither see nor hear us,” Davis said of the example.

Davis implored the audience to be aware of unconscious bias. “It is impossible to say you hire only on merit,” she said. Awareness is the first step, she added, because we are all the agents of change.


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