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Where are female professionals on the screen?

At its annual Women of Excellence Luncheon Wednesday, members of Network 2000 Inc. celebrated 20 years of empowering female professionals and learned new lessons about the obstacles that remain for women.

Despite feminist efforts and the passage of time, women are under-represented in leadership professions, especially in Maryland. The featured speaker at the luncheon, Academy Award-winning actor Geena Davis, said the representation of women in the media is not helping the matter.

As founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, she was armed with facts to demonstrate the disparity between women and men in television and movies — fewer female characters appear in these media, and of those that do, their occupations often reflect gender stereotypes.

Geena Davis

Actor Geena Davis addresses Network 2000’s Women of Excellence Luncheon. Her institute, which studies gender roles in media, found women underrepresented in TV and movies in general and particularly when it came to roles as executives.

A 2013 study the institute conducted showed that from 2006 to 2011, only about 28 percent of speaking characters in family films were women and about 31 percent in children’s shows. In family films, only 3.4 percent of characters with C-suite professions were women, even though women held 25 percent of chief executive positions in 2010.

“We judge ourselves by being reflected in the culture,” said Davis. “We’re teaching kids that women and girls are not as important as men and boys.”

The media can create quick change, Davis said. While it may take decades to grow large numbers of female leaders in business, technology or politics, a female character can reach millions almost immediately by portraying one.

For example, popular television shows like “CSI” and “Bones” have shown female leads as forensic scientists, and that field has grown in popularity among women. A 2008 survey of accredited forensic science programs found that 78 percent of their students were female.

It can impact the perceptions of young children as well, she said, even if they watch television and movies made for children. Another Davis Institute study found that in G-rated movies from 2006 to 2009, not one medical, legal, executive or political professional was a woman.

“I have a 2 1/2-year-old son, so watching some of those shows with him, I can see what she’s talking about,” said L. Content McLaughlin, principal at McLaughlin Law Group and a member of Network 2000. “After today’s topic, I would guess it’s going to be a topic of discussion” within the organization.

Network 2000 is well aware of the under-representation of women in leadership roles. Its annual Census of Women Board Directors in Maryland showed that in 2012, women made up 10.7 percent of board members at Maryland companies, falling below the national average of 16.6 percent.

The same census showed that women made up 11.3 percent of executive officers in the state and that 56.3 percent of Maryland companies have no female executive officers.

However, the influence of the media upon this inequality is new to the group, said Network 2000 President Katherine Armstrong. She plans to facilitate opportunities to discuss this issue in small groups.

While the numbers show abundant room for improvement, Armstrong and President-elect Janine DiPaula Stevens reflected positively on their organization’s progress since its inception 20 years ago, highlighting the increase in members, corporate support and interest in the network’s mentoring program for mid-career women.

“We started off as a very few, and we have grown,” said Stevens. As for inequality, she said, “There’s an awareness factor. We need more people to just bring it to the forefront.”