Portrayals of Female STEM Characters in TV and Film Haven’t Improved in 10 Years


The Lyda Hill Foundation and Geena Davis’s Institute on Gender in Media launch groundbreaking research study on representations of female STEM characters in media.

The Lyda Hill Foundation, in partnership with Geena Davis’s Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University, released an extensive research report on the portrayals of female characters in science, technology, engineering and math in television and film. “Portray Her: Representations of Women STEM Characters in Media” shows that entertainment media has a long way to go to improve stereotypes about pursuing STEM careers.

“There are plenty of stories to be told of women on the front lines of scientific breakthroughs and innovation, but their stories are seldomly brought to the forefront of popular culture,” said Lyda Hill, founder of the Lyda Hill Foundation. “We are at a pivotal time to change the ways girls and women think about themselves and their abilities to pursue careers in STEM. If we support a woman in STEM, then she can change the world.”

“We’re honored and very excited to be partnered with Lyda Hill, a remarkable entrepreneur and philanthropist with a deep passion for science. Our collaboration demonstrates a true understanding of the significance of media and entertainment in influencing how intersectional women and girls perceive STEM as a potential career. This groundbreaking study shows that if women and girls don’t see themselves on screen as STEM professionals, they’re less likely to pursue those career paths. However, the study also shows when entertainment media includes female characters in STEM, it can be highly positive,” said Geena Davis, Academy Award winning actor and founder of the Institute.

The Lyda Hill Foundation and Geena Davis’s Institute conducted the most comprehensive longitudinal content analysis of STEM characters in entertainment media to date, and a revealing survey of girls’ and women’s opinions of their perceptions of STEM. The study, led by Institute Research Director Caroline Heldman, Ph.D., offers a comprehensive analysis of the character portrayals of STEM professionals in film and TV and reiterates the significant role media plays in directly influencing young people’s aspirations and career paths. As the Institute’s motto states, “if she can see it, she can be it.” The study found that:

  • 62.9 percent of STEM professionals portrayed in media are men, outnumbering women STEM characters nearly two-to-one. This has not improved in the past decade.
  • One-third of girls/women say they have considered a STEM career, but only one-quarter say they will actually pursue STEM.
  • 82.7 percent of girls and women think it is important to see girls/women in STEM in films and television, but only 37.1 percent of STEM character portrayals are female.
  • Girls/women are more likely to go into STEM if they personally know someone in STEM, have a STEM role model and have teachers, friends and family members who encouraged them to pursue STEM.
  • Female characters that inspired women and girls to pursue STEM careers include:
    • April Sexton (Chicago Med)
    • Addison Montgomery (Private Practice)
    • Temperance Brennan (Bones)
    • Meredith Grey (Grey’s Anatomy)
    • McKeyla McAlister (Project Mc2)
    • Dana Scully (The X Files)
    • Amy Farrah Fowler (Big Bang Theory)
    • Doc McStuffins (Doc McStuffins)

The “Portray Her” report supports the Lyda Hill Foundation’s mission to promote science. The research behind the report lays the groundwork for the foundation’s soon-to-be-launched “If/Then” initiative, which will create opportunities for female STEM professionals to promote their work and stories and, by doing so, positively influence young girls and women. If/Then asserts that young girls must have positive role models to realize their own full potential.

To read the entire report click here, or to receive more information on the If/Then initiative visit ifthenshecan.org.


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