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Filmmaker Newsom tackles gender bias at NEW Summit

Wednesday, October 23, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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American culture encourages young girls to embrace "princess” stereotypes that discourage leadership traits and breed gender bias, filmmaker and activist Jennifer Siebel Newsom told NEW members at the NEW Leadership Summit, Oct. 23, 2013 in Los Angeles.

"Leadership has traditionally been reserved for men,” said Newsom, the writer, producer and director of "Miss Representation” during her closing keynote speech, "Redefining Leadership.”

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Young girls hear about their looks, rather than their capacity to lead, while their "brothers and male peers are told early on that they are our natural born leaders,” Newsom said.

Meanwhile, young girls have princess-themed birthday parties complete with tiaras and jewelry-making stations, but no inherent themes of leadership or responsibility. "The princess doesn’t really do anything during the day,” Newsom said, "and Prince Charming might not even show up, right? I want my daughter to have options and I don’t think the ‘princess’ option is a healthy one.”

Young boys have been limited as well as they are forced to conform to notions of masculinity that value qualities like aggression and domination over empathy and caring. Research shows "boys at birth are more emotional than girls, but we socialize that out of them,” she said. "We need to explore what has become normalized in our country.”

As an actress, Newsom was told by her agent to lie about her age and take her MBA off of her resume. She realized the things she’d passionately worked for were not valued by the entertainment industry.

Harmful messages

"Americans are now being sold sex and violence 24/7,” Newsom said. "It’s getting worse with reality TV and infotainment, and young people are absorbing messages. They don’t know that ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ is not reality.

"Truth be told, it’s distracting our daughters, killing their confidence and ambition, and robbing our boys of empathy and emotion.”

Gender bias permeates professional culture, Newsom said, citing a study that revealed science professors view female job candidates as less worthy and offer them fewer jobs, mentoring opportunities and lower salaries.

While women in corporate positions receive more raises than male peers, men receive up to 60 percent more money in their raises, Newsom said. "Companies led by women and diverse teams perform better. So why isn’t there change at the top?”

Among the hurdles: Women aren’t given adequate resources to help them advance and men are typically given larger projects with larger budgets and more resources.

"Some biases are so unconsciously institutionalized, these leaders aren’t aware of the inequities,” Newsom said. "We’ve culturally accepted that a man in the lead is more valuable than a woman.”

Changing the norms of gender expectation will take a group effort. Parents have a choice to steer daughters away from the limiting ‘princess’ culture and men can counsel younger male employees to have a healthier perspective of women. "Stand up and speak out against that which demeans and degrades women and girls and limits men and boys.” Newsom urged.

At the corporate level, CEOs need to mandate that everyone in the organization support the advancement of women. "It can’t just be one woman and 10 male candidates, brought to attention by a recruiting firm,” she said.

Gender bias limits women's and men's life choices,
filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom told NEW Summit attendees.

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