Dunn launched The Female Lead, a non-profit project partly funded by Dunn herself, which aims to broaden the range of female role models accessible to women.
At the heart of the project is a book that profiles 60 inspirational women from all walks of life, including women as diverse as Meryl Streep and filmmaker Ava DuVernay, photographed by Brigitte Lacombe. The project plans to distributed 9,000 copies of the book in schools, with teaching materials and video content.
Speaking at the Grazia and WACL "Culture & Commerce" Lunch, as part of Advertising Week Europe, Dunn explained that the project’s simple ambition is to give girls more female role models to look up to.
She said: "When you ask girls to name their female role models they talk to their mothers, sisters or grandmothers with boys it is more likely to be sports stars."
Pointing to the popularity of reality TV stars such as Kim Kardashian, Dunn argued that there should be more emphasis on what women can achieve, not on what they look like.
Ambition and ambivalence
According to Dunn, girls don’t talk about ambition. She explained: "On the whole, girls don’t like using the word ambition they find it an ugly, dirty word." Instead she found they talked about "following their passions" their friends and networks and the barriers they overcome.
The project was not without its knock backs, Dunn revealed: "It was difficult to get Meryl Streep into a room but my advice to anyone is to just keep trying."
Recalling one of the most inspiring interviews for the book, Dunn shared the insight given to her by DuVernay, who said: "Many people ask me, how do you get started, where do you begin? And she said she said you just start. You don't ask for permission, you just start."
Stepping up and standing out
This theme was picked up Lindsay Clay, chief executive of Thinkbox and president of WACL, who urged women in the industry to put themselves forward and encourage the next generation of female talent into the industry.
She questioned the kind of signal it sends to young women when industry events continue to have all-male panels. While WACL lobbies for more representative panels, she said conference organisers often claim to invite women, but that they decline. She implored women to step up, adding, "If somebody asks you to speak please think twice before you say no."