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MSMC president joins Geena Davis, L.A. First Lady to talk women's leadership in Los Angeles

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Panelists discuss women's leadership in L.A.: (L-R) Los Angeles magazine Editor in Chief Mary Melton, City of Los Angeles First Lady Amy Elaine Wakeland, Academy Award-winning actor Geena Davis and Mount St. Mary's President Ann McElaney-Johnson.

This summer, Los Angeles magazine, the City of Los Angeles Commission on the Status of Women, and Mount St. Mary’s College partnered to bring together a panel of influential women to examine women’s leadership and gender roles in Los Angeles.

The public discussion took place at Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel, and featured Mount St. Mary’s College President Ann McElaney-Johnson, Academy Award® winning actor Geena Davis, and City of Los Angeles First Lady Amy Elaine Wakeland. A video recap and photo slideshow is available on Los Angeles magazine’s website. 

President McElaney-Johnson kicked off the discussion by sharing the Mount’s ongoing research through its Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California, which annually compiles key information on the status of the 19 million women and girls who call California home.

“The idea was to shine a spotlight on gender gaps,” McElaney-Johnson told panel moderator Mary Melton, editor in chief of Los Angeles magazine. “We really do believe that by putting it out there and bringing these figures to light, we can really start a conversation.”

Davis, who founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount St. Mary’s College, talked about the power of film and television to improve gender balance and empower girls to think big.

“As long as it might take to change the political ratio or get more female law partners or female tenured professors, the percentage of female characters can change overnight!” Davis said. “Our motto is, ‘if she can see it, she can be it.’ We really believe that if boys and girls can see women and girls doing important and non-traditional things, it will make a huge change.”

Wakeland agreed, and she explained her approach at the political level and what’s needed to grow the number of women engaged in public service. Currently, the City of Los Angeles is partnering with Mount St. Mary’s to develop a series of briefs that will provide specific data on L.A.'s women and girls, and enable local government to identify the greatest needs and take action to address them.

“I think the one thing that all three of us up here have in common,” Wakeland said, “regardless of the issues that we’re working on and the teams we work with, is that we are taking a very serious stab at quantifying the issues that we’re dealing with, and being positive about the opportunities we have for change.”

Despite touching on many of the challenges that face women in the city and state, McElaney-Johnson pointed to the students she sees every day at the Mount as reason for hope. 

“I look at these grim statistics – and I know some of them are really grim – but I’m very optimistic,” McElaney-Johnson said. “This generation is delightful to watch. They’re not tentative. They’re going to go. They don’t seem the least bit afraid of these barriers. And that gives me tremendous hope for the change that will continue to come.”   

The panel's dialogue took place as part of Los Angeles magazine's monthly Breakfast Conversation series. To read Los Angeles’ analysis of the conversation, visit the magazine’s CityThink blog