The entertainment industry can be a daunting place for young women, making the need for mentoring and support greater than ever. Individuals such as First Lady Michelle Obama have publicly backed the need for mentors across all areas of a young person's life, and successful stage and screen actress Sharon Lawrence has answered the call with her years of commitment as a member of the Women in Film Foundation.
As a member of Women in Film Foundation Los Angeles, Sharon helps women to achieve their potential in the global entertainment, communications and media industries both in the US and on a global scale.
"My interest in Women in Film came from attending the Crystal Awards in 1998 where Meryl Streep and producers Gale Anne Hurd and Lucy Fisher were honored with the annual award. I was persuaded by the Foundation's President, Joan Hyler, to become an active member, and it is her eloquence about the status and value of the leadership of women that really opened my eyes to the importance of support, acknowledgement and financial parity that Women in Film stands for," Sharon tells me.
"Women in Film have advocated over the last 40 years to create a network that connects our members to opportunities, education and non-profit efforts in line with our vision of empowering all women and ultimately connecting us with one another."
The organization is involved in many different projects such as the Film Finishing Fund sponsored by Netflix, a PSA programme and a Legacy Series archiving interviews with women involved in every area of the entertainment industry beginning with the 1930s. Women in Film are also currently involved in a partnership with the Sundance Institute to track the progress of the female filmmakers from the class of 2012.
Despite the support that Women in Film offers females in the industry, it is clear that women remain at a disadvantage in the world of entertainment. "Women remain dramatically under-represented as characters in film when compared to their representation in the US population," Sharon says. "They comprised only 18% of directors, executive producers, producers, writers and editors on the top 250 domestic grossing films in 2011. It is clear that something has to change."
Despite these stark statistics, Sharon is positive that the entertainment, communications and media industries can positively change and help women. "Technology has already opened the door a bit wider for filmmakers, with smaller digital cameras making production less cumbersome. Social media is allowing self distribution, and girl groups like Spark Summit are leading the way in calling for fewer Photoshop image alterations of girls in print media."
Sharon's own success is certainly impressive, with her presence in television series such as NYPD Blue, Law & Order SVU, Grey's Anatomy and Drop Dead Diva gaining her a large fan base.
"I am attracted to the complexities and deeper truths of characters, and I can't name a favourite role any more than I can name a favourite food! It was so interesting to play the sociopathic social killer on Law & Order SVU and Issie's fragile but well-meaning Mom on Grey's Anatomy."
Sharon recently reprised her role on Drop Dead Diva, and has also joined the cast of Rizzoli and Isles, playing the birth-mom of Dr. Maura Isles, portrayed by Sasha Alexander. "Rizzoli and Isles positively represents an era in television drama where female characters are realistically portrayed in positions of power and professional achievement. It is also wonderful to see women at the top of male dominated professions benefitting from a friendship based on trust and respect, rather than competition."
Despite her busy schedule, Sharon is committed to her charitable interests. "As a scuba diver I quickly saw the devastating impact of ocean degradation. Local efforts like Heal the Bay and Green Wish are really effective in advocating change, such as the banning of single use plastic bags or promoting regulations of clean air."
Sharon is also passionate about mentoring individuals both inside and outside her charitable commitments. "We bounce ideas, attend events together, swap stories of success and struggle and sometimes even share clothes!"
Sharon's own inspirations include some of her fellow industry professionals.
"Annette Bening is a marvellous teacher and role model for balancing craft, family and maturity in the business and Viola Davis displays humanity and honesty in each performance. I am also inspired by Sherry Lansing and the late Laura Ziskin for their grace and good nature as executives committed to better opportunity and support for women and girls in all areas of life."
As a mentor, Sharon is keen for other women to share the mantle with her. "Listen first and resist the temptation to judge. Listen to your own heart and to another woman's story. Respect the differences and share what you know. Good leaders recognize that there is room for many perspectives, and that real success comes in being constructive rather than destructive. For young women aspiring to succeed in entertainment I would encourage them to travel and get out of their comfort zone. The stories you tell, even if they are about your own backyard will be told with a more interesting perspective."