Laura Dern Promotes Gender Parity Across Industries at Women in Tech Code-a-Thon
“I didn't really know what it meant to be a woman worker in the world of tech until I played [Renata Klein] and started talking to CEOs and board members of major tech companies in Silicon Valley. These seemingly very powerful women had to grow up in an industry much like mine where there's only one spot at the table. It's a very treacherous trail to get that one spot,” said Dern.
At digital travel platform Booking.com’s two-day inaugural Women in Tech Code-a-Thon in San Francisco, Laura Dern announced a series of grants totaling $350,000 on behalf of the organization to help fund STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education for young women.
“Women still perceive their gender to be detrimental to pursuing a career in tech, with more than half (52 percent) attributing this to the tech industry’s largely male-dominated workforce,” according to a Booking.com statement that also includes 2018 research by global consultancy McKinsey stating that women make up only 23 percent of high school Advanced Placement computer science exam takers, 19 percent of computer and information science bachelor’s degree recipients and 26 percent of the computing workforce.
To help remedy this deficiency, Dern and Booking.com’s CEO Gillian Tans and Dern hope to raise awareness about gender diversity in the workplace as well as assist young women who are preparing to enter the world of technology by providing coding classes, mentorship, hands-on training and more. Dern spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about her efforts.
“It's one thing to say to young women, ‘Hey, you should enter this world.' But to have the resources, to have that seat at the table, means to be supported with the level of education they deserve,” Dern told THR. “When a company like this offers that kind of support, it's great news and we all flock to be part of it.”
After spending time with the coterie of young ladies who were immersing themselves in code at the CNET Smart Home in San Francisco, Dern remarked, “It’s so refreshing to witness a generation of young women who not only believe they should be and can be, but demand their seat at the table and their place in the room. I don't think we've had a generation like that.”
She continued: “The universities deserve their brains. They're going to bring in a new mindset around cinema, fine arts, science, around healing the environment and medicine, like no other generation has, because they've grown up with the technology and they know they can take this language further than we ever imagined.”
While bolstering the tech world is not new to Dern, who presented highlights of the Academy's Scientific and Technical Awards at the Oscars back in 1994, it is something she is still passionate about.
“Gillian and I are thinking in the same way, which is, ‘How can we as fellow women workers lift these numbers to reach gender and diversity parity across all industries. And along with that, how about respect? How about integrity in the workplace? There's a lot of work to do. It's the work I'm deeply focused on.”
When it comes to her relationship with coding in Hollywood, Dern fondly recalled Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic film Jurassic Park, which has since spawned into a franchise.
“I was in the first CGI movie, which was Jurassic Park,” she told THR. “Technology was this crazy new adventure, where I was witnessing the pioneers try to figure out how to do it. Now it's advanced to a space where all doors are open. Within the Academy, we're looking at how that technology and how this language should also be honored, not just supported. Even within the actors' branch, when we're looking at motion capture performances and considering them in the highest of art for actors, those are some of our greatest performances. Personally, I'm understanding where science and art meet in a very new way. And it’s really moving to see how these girls' brains are getting around all of it.”
Fast forward to her role in David E. Kelley's Big Little Lies (season two will debut on June 9), where Dern has also noticed parallels between the industries.
“I didn't really know what it meant to be a woman worker in the world of tech until I played [Renata Klein] and started talking to CEOs and board members of major tech companies in Silicon Valley," she said. "These seemingly very powerful women had to grow up in an industry much like mine where there's only one spot at the table. It's a very treacherous trail to get that one spot.”
She continued: “We've read immensely about abusive power in industries. For women to really own that opportunity, but also have ownership, has been a massive shift. And then you also deal with pay parity, right? There are women in our industries, but are they being supported in the same way?”
Dern said she notices that there has been a significant positive shift in pay parity with the Time's Up movement. “Massively!” she told THR. “I think women are standing together to really honor that conversation and certainly in the film industry. Not only in numbers, but in terms of workers, and also in pay parity. It’s been a slow conversation, but it is now a revolution. This isn't a flavor of the month thing.”
When it comes to ensuring the movement continues with vigor, Dern offered the following advice to young girls: “Demand your right in whatever you want to do in this life. Don't get labeled as just one thing. Do it all and please run for Congress also! For our generation, everybody over 25, we're in the room where there are so many other people who feel the same way we do. Our male co-workers feel the way we do. We not only have to speak up and be the first voice willing to say something, but also know there's a community around us that will support us. We have to use that opportunity to fight.”
Back to coding and its relationship with upcoming generations, Dern’s daughter Jaya Harper recently demonstrated how bright the future can be if there’s support.
“I wouldn't say she's a coder, but she has all the capability and she's a middle schooler, so she may very well find her way to it,” Dern noted. “My son at 17 said, ‘Mom, we really would love a puppy.’ And I was like, ‘There's no way we're getting a puppy. I'm too busy and overwhelmed. I'm a single parent.’ About eight hours later, my daughter said we need a family meeting. Suddenly there’s an entire website that she created about our family and what a puppy does to heal us with things happening on the computer that I didn't know could happen. It was insane. My son was like, ‘I'm three years older and I don't understand how that just happened.’ It speaks of this generation and what they have at their fingertips and what they're doing with it. Even to get a puppy. By the way, we have a puppy and her name is Baby. My daughter is a tech genius.”
For other burgeoning minds, Dern is fervently helping to make their placement in the tech industry a possibility.
“They need job access and to have scholarships so they have the opportunity to go to the schools that are not only going to teach the language of coding and support them, but also blur the line of what they can do with it,” she said. “Hopefully Booking.com not only inspires other companies and tech companies to reach parity, but also helps them understand why it’s important to create scholarships for young women and people of color to find their way and advance in these industries.”