50/50: Tiffany Shlain on Changing How We View Powerful Women Leaders
She sees the glass as half full.
Raised by “two feminist parents” who were intellectuals questioning how the world worked for men and women, Tiffany Shlain says she grew up to be positive about the role women play historically, currently and in the future.
The California-based visionary also says she had the perfect upbringing for a techy filmmaker who would spend her life telling stories to change the world.
Though quite positive, she is quick to admit, “I am not a Polyanna.”
Shlain, 47, the Emmy-nominated filmmaker and founder of The Webby Awards, says she was greatly influenced by her mother, Dr. Carole Lewis, an academic and author, and her father, Leonard Shlain, a doctor and author of several books including, Sex, Time and Power and The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess.
In the short film, “50/50: The Past, Present & Future of Women and Power,” Shlain touches on her mother’s path to earning a PhD, studying and writing about the role of women mentors. Ironically, her mother accomplished all of it without having a mentor herself.
Envisioning a world where women—and men—have the mentors they need to succeed, Shlain’s mission aligns with the mission of Gloria Feldt, Take The Lead co-founder and president, who writes, “When women lead, we all win.”
Shlain’s latest global event is so big it would frighten anyone less optimistic to tackle it—anyone but Shlain, that is.
On May 10, Shlain, co-founder and executive director of Let It Ripple Film Studio, is launching 50/50 Day with 11,000 events in 50 states and 65 countries centered on her short film, “50/50: The Past, Present & Future of Women and Power,” that briefly explores the history of women in powerful leadership positions from ancient Egypt’s Hatshepsut in 1478 BC, to Wu Zetian in China in 624 BC to Margaret I of Denmark and more, telling a new narrative of women leaders and aiming for ”a more gender-balanced world” across all sectors.
To that end, “thousands of organizations, companies, schools, museums, libraries and homes — anywhere people already gather — will embark on a global conversation about what it will take to get to a more gender-balanced world in all sectors of society: business, politics, culture, home, and more.” Take The Lead is a partner on 50/50 Day with events that include screening of the film, discussions and virtual events.
A Global Livecast May 10 begins at 8 a.m. ET and continues with 18 hours of live programming including over 25 Q&A interviews with prominent leaders talking about getting to gender equity from different perspectives. Shlain interviews Take The Lead’s co-founder and president Feldt at 10 .am. Check out the livestreams from panels at 50/50 Day events around the world; and live coverage from the thousands of events, art installations, and more. See all the speakers here. You can watch it all live on this page or on Facebook.
“This is a non-partisan day,” Shlain explains. “We want to channel this into something positive and have a global conversation. I see it as emotionally and intellectually entertaining.”
Getting to this point with another big idea seems only natural for Shlain.
She graduated from University of California- Berkeley in film, but admits, “I was always interested in technology.” Shlain says that is why she founded The Webby Awards in her 20s. With her film and tech background, Shlain says, “When YouTube came on the scene, I saw the two worlds of film and technology collide. And I started doing social change documentaries.”
Since then, according to Shlain’s site, “Her films and work have received over 80 awards and distinctions including a Disruptive Innovation Award from Tribeca Film Festival and NPR’s list of best commencement speeches. She closely follows the latest developments in technology, neuroscience, feminism and footwear. Four of her films have premiered at Sundance, including her feature documentary “Connected,” and “The Tribe,” which explores American Jewish identity through the history of the Barbie doll. The U.S. State Department selected four of her films for The American Film Showcase.”
50/50 came about following a conversation she had at an event with Laura Ann Liswood, Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders. From Liswood, Shlain learned there are 50 women world leaders, something she did not know, and later many people she knew and asked randomly were unaware was true.
This was eye-opening for the filmmaker, who thought the 10,000 year-old narrative of women and power has been skewed in the last 100 years.
“We have been telling the story of scarcity for so long,” Shlain says. “We have lost perspective.” She added, ”I think we have been fighting so much for rights and fighting so much for what we don’t have to the detriment of what we do have. One lens has to be what we have achieved, rather than what we need to do.”
She set out to direct a short film and model a day of global events after her highly successful Character Day, that in 2016 hosted 93,000 events in all 50 states and 125 countries around the world, including viewing a short film, discussion materials and more.
The married mother of two daughters, 8 and 14, Shlain says she intends for her events to include men and women in all parts of the process. “The more men will be involved, the better for everyone. We have a lot of men on board, fathers, husbands; we also want sons to be engaged.” Shlain’s husband, Ken Goldberg, an artist and professor of robotics at UC-Berkeley, is on the board of directors of Let It Ripple.
Shlain has experience with guaranteeing audience engagement. Her original series, “The Future Starts Here,” has received over 40 million views.
According to the website, “Let it Ripple’s mission is to use film, technology, discussion materials, and live and virtual events to engage people in conversation and action around complicated subjects that are shaping our lives, and updating these topics through an engaging, accessible, 21st century lens.”
The site continues, “Over the past 10 years, we have created and distributed 30 films, engaged over 50 Million people in dialogue, pioneered a new way of making films we call ‘Cloud Filmmaking,’ where we make films collaboratively with people all over the world, and founded a new model to start global conversations with screenings and discussions across all continents on the same day, with a combination of live and virtual events.”
The first 50/50 event may lead to subsequent annual events. But first things first, Shlain is looking to make the May 10 global happening the best it can possibly be.
Getting to 50/50, Shalin explains, “is about everyone getting more power,” she says. And of course, she will see the positive side of every step of the journey.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon www.micheleweldon.com