SoCal Women’s Keynoter Dives Into the Role of Women in STEM, M&E
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — According to Madeline Di Nonno, president and CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, the organization came about purely by accident. Actress Geena Davis just noticed something few others had figured out, or at least didn’t bother to address.
Davis had noticed the disparity of women representation in TV and film, and that, 20 years ago, when Hollywood talked about diversity, gender wasn’t a part of the discussion.
Enter her Institute on Gender in Media, which sheds light on the world of women and STEM in media and the critical pursuit of closing the STEM gender gap.
“It’s more important than ever that we have our children start an interest in STEM,” Di Nonno said during her keynote presentation — “STEM in Media” — Nov. 3 at Women in Technology Hollywood’s (WiTH) SoCal Women’s Leadership Summit.
“By high school we see girls dropping out [of STEM programs], so we really need to encourage them early.”
Part of the reason girls start losing interest in STEM after middle school is because media and entertainment and society at large don’t acknowledge the collaborative aspects of the field, and, worse, schools and M&E make light of how sexism is all but expected in STEM roles, Di Nonno said. While in the media 37 percent of STEM roles are comprised of women, in the real world that number is only 24 percent. And in media and entertainment representation, men and women characters in STEM will see equal amounts of adversity, but by far more male characters are represented overcoming their hurdles, she added.
In a world where media influences perceptions and aspirations, it has become critical to comprehend the current state of women’s portrayal in STEM, Di Nonno said, while sharing how women are currently depicted and their impact on society’s collective mindset. She pointed to The Scully Effect, where “The X-Files” had a real-world impact on women in science, with half of those surveyed saying it increased their interest in STEM. That’s one of very few positive representations of women in STEM in entertainment, Di Nonno noted, with many shows showing women in STEM roles unable to balance their family lives.
Currently, male STEM characters outnumber women two to one, and UK content has nearly 33 percent of lead STEM characters as women, compared to just 7.5 percent in the U.S. “It’s the same in TV, it’s the same in film, it’s the same in global advertising,” Di Nonno said. “How do we retain women in the real world in STEM? It’s about thinking of the biases with our children.” That starts in what we watch.
Christina Aguilera, president of the WiTH Foundation, opened the Summit with a nod to the importance of the event’s theme, “Us, Our Orgs, Our Community.” “Each year our Leadership Summit represents a pivotal turning point for us,” she said, noting that WiTH membership rose 60 percent year over year, to more than 7,000 members. “The WiTH Foundation isn’t just a name, it’s a promise.”
Meanwhile, Kavita Anand, SVP of Qvest, title sponsor of the event, pointed out that today, women only make up 42 percent of the workforce, and at the leadership level, that number drops to 32 percent. “We know there’s still a lot of work to be done,” she said. “It’s important to invest in a culture of coaching and mentorship at all levels.”
The annual SoCal Women’s Leadership Summit was presented by Qvest with sponsorship by Softtek, and took place at Nya Studios, located in the heart of Hollywood.
The full-day event, themed “Us, Our Org, Our Community,” offered a dynamic lineup of presentations and discussions.
Attendees enjoyed engaging sessions such as “STEM in Media,” “Courageous Leadership,” and “Ethical AI.” One of the highlights of the summit is the Leadership Awards, which recognizes outstanding leaders and advocates in the entertainment technology sector. These individuals not only excel in their professional roles but also embody WiTH’s principles through their work, community engagement, mentoring, and networking. Past recipients of the award include industry luminaries like Nancy Faginas-Cody, Cristina Mancini-Jones, and Theresa Miller.
WiTH, founded in 2014, plays a pivotal role in advancing women in entertainment technology. The WiTH Steering Committee, responsible for selecting Leadership Awards winners, comprises representatives from prominent organizations such as Amazon Studios, Microsoft, Lionsgate, NBCUniversal, Paramount, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and The Walt Disney Company.