Women in Media: Innovation in Storytelling

Written by: Adam Fratto

The Exchange offered an array of cool events at Comic Con this year, including the live-streamed “Women in Media” panel.

The conversation—casual but pointed, witty but serious minded—featured a handful of accomplished women discussing the intersection of technology and storytelling, the challenges and opportunities they face in their respective career paths, and what lies in the future. The panelists were extraordinary television showrunner Wendy Calhoun; Skybound North’s Catherine Winder; virtual reality guru at Google Elisabeth Morant; “Chief Catalyst” at the Skunkworks-y Google X Karishma Shah; and Skybound Media’s own Rachel Skidmore.

If anyone had doubts about the importance of virtual reality (VR) in today’s storytelling world, the panelists proved otherwise. Elisabeth talked about her work with the “Tilt Brush” tool for creating 3D art using VR, while Catherine teased a cool horror/fantasy project that Skybound is developing. Even Wendy, who is an expert in conventional storytelling, is particularly proud of her VR project “Left Behind,” which uses the empathic power of VR to convey what it feels like to be the child of someone who has been imprisoned.

While the panelists brought different perspectives to pursuing a career in tech or media, they all agreed on the importance of having a mentor. Karishma started at Google X when she was just an intern, and she credits much of her success to the guidance of Patty Smith, who took her under her wing. Wendy spoke fondly of her mentor, whom she ironically describes as a “white male”: extraordinary showrunner/writer Graham Yost. Somewhat surprisingly, one of the other panelists credited her high school harp teacher!

The discussion also touched on the challenges of being female in the tech/media business. They confirmed what many of us have been reading about in the news these days: that workspaces can be uncomfortable, stereotypes and prejudices can be hard to transcend, and work relationships are often complicated by sexism. But these women were bullish on the future and offered advice to those who may follow in their footsteps: “don’t give your power away,” “don’t undervalue yourself,” “don’t rely on others,” and “choose the people who choose you.”

Thanks to The Exchange, this hour with dynamic, forward-thinking women at the cutting edge was time well spent.

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.