Sundance Institute and Women In Film Los Angeles convened an unprecedented day meeting, organized and conducted in private, of entertainment industry decision-makers and top talent in mid-October to determine tangible steps for solving the gender parity issue that plagues Hollywood. Agents and industry executives who are normally accustomed to competing with each other, came together in a rare collaboration, the goal being to effect deep and lasting change.
Participating were 44 senior industry leaders — both men and women — from studios, networks, distributors, guilds and agencies, along with high-profile writers, directors and producers, to drill into the systemic causes of gender bias in the industry and craft solutions.
The gathered leaders began by focusing on the specific obstacles for women in Hollywood identified in the ground-breaking Sundance Institute / Women In Film Los Angeles USC Annenberg research, which over the last four years has succinctly identified the barriers and most consistent “fall out” points for female filmmakers from the earliest development of projects at Sundance Institute Labs, through the festival experience and into the Keri Putnam, Executive Director of Sundance Institute, said, “With perspective from opening Sundance’s records for four years of landmark research that examines the barriers facing women in film, the time is right to gather industry leadership and start to address these obstacles. The commitment from participants makes me believe that the industry is ready to explore real, tangible solutions that create more opportunities for women.”
Cathy Schulman, President of Women In Film Los Angeles, said, “We are at an economic, social and cultural tipping point and sustainable change is within reach. The time to act is now. Hollywood is surprisingly late in coming to this party and this is the time for conversion.”
Erik Feig, Co-President of Lionsgate and a participant in the meeting, said, “As someone who has professionally and creatively greatly benefited from women as protagonists, directors, producers, writers, fellow executives and audiences, gender parity has always seemed like the most win-win goal for anyone in the entertainment industry so getting behind this objective was a very easy decision for me.”
The two-day think tank was led by Carolyn Buck Luce and Rob Evans, the expert facilitation team at Imaginal Labs. Together they have worked with senior executives from 40 of the Fortune 100 companies and designed breakthrough strategies for women’s advancement with such companies as Google, Goldman Sachs, Time Warner, NBC Universal, Bloomberg and Intel, bringing with them the best practices of these companies to our event. In addition they brought in leaders from other fields who offered examples of concrete, actionable change from other industries’ efforts to open up opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups.
For almost two decades statistics have shown flat-lined numbers for women behind and in front of the camera. Studies from USC, UCLA, USD and the DGA have led this awareness campaign, together with the Women In Film/Sundance Institute/Annenberg study.
The participants in the meeting determined four key conversion strategies that this group is moving forward to implement:
- Advocate ‘Unconscious Bias’ training across the industry. Leaders in other businesses have determined that unconscious bias creates blind spots and leads to missed market opportunities, and also hinders access to valuable consumer segments limiting profits. Creating more content for women and people of color is not only about equality; it also makes good business sense. An expert Unconscious Bias educator will be selected to work with executives and creatives across the industry.
- Develop and launch a Gender Parity Stamp to recognize films and television shows — as well as production companies, networks and studios — that show measurable progress to achieving gender equity. Mirrored on the successful work by LGBT advocates and the PGA’s producer mark, this recognition for positive progress will be a visible identifier for companies that have prioritized equal gender hiring practice and have financed or supported business opportunities for women in front of and behind the camera.
- Sponsor/Protégé Program. This high-level pilot program will identify talented early-to-mid career female film and TV directors for a year-long training and fellowship program, and pair them with advocates across the industry who will actively help them move to the next level. While many individual companies have training programs, this unique program will enable the protégé to work across different networks, studios and agencies. With the support and participation of executives across the industry, this program will highlight women selected by a panel of leaders and assure they have the tools, relationships, and exposure to launch and sustain their careers.
- Ambassadors from the industry leaders at the meeting will spread the word about the solutions to studios, networks and agencies. Crucially, the participants have committed to staying involved in the project and will enlist an ever-growing group of advocates to work inside their organizations on articulating the business case for making changes in culture and practices to hire more women and people of color.
This convening was recently announced in The Los Angeles Times, and a fleet of press coverage followed. You can find some articles below: