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Turning Talk Into Action: Practical Tips To Advance Inclusivity And Equality In Media In The Era Of #MeToo And #TimesUp

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In the wake of the groundbreaking #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, entertainment industry insiders share some practical tips to advance inclusivity and equality in the media industry.

It has been a year of shocking (and not so shocking) revelations about abuse of power in the entertainment industry. Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded to several news media organizations for coverage sparking a worldwide reckoning regarding sexual abuse. It’s clear that awareness of the pervasive personal and professional obstacles that women encounter in the workplace has been firmly elevated to the global stage.

So, what lessons can the media industry take from this recent cultural shift, and how can they be applied to promote positive social change?

During a SMWNYC session, Christie Marchese, CEO of Picture Motion, a leading creative impact agency, led a discussion with actress and Times Up advocate Michelle Hurd and Refinery29’s Chief Content Officer Amy Emmerich on how the media industry can advance inclusivity and equality in the workplace.

Here are some of the highlights from that discussion.

How to shift culture: The power of community, media, and language to create awareness and promote unity

The Times Up and Me Too movements clearly demonstrate the power of harnessing media and community to create positive social change. Although there is some overlap between the two movements, Time’s Up focuses on solutions that can promote fairness, safety, and equity in the workplace. Their collective impact is currently being felt in the media industry in a number of ways.

As the movements have gained momentum, Emmerich has noticed at Refinery29 “how vocal and supportive everybody has been across the board now, for all things. There is no taboo anymore, across all content and categories.” Whilst the Me Too movement is more about the sisterhood of victims of sexual abuse,  Times Up is trying to break down the power dynamic across all industries. “We are now talking about how to work together and achieve that.”

“We now have two little words, that actually have a movement behind them,” which carry a lot more weight now and can truly empower individuals, observed Hurd. Citing a recent example, she recounted a discussion between a production assistant and a senior makeup artist, who had been asked to visit a male actor’s trailer to apply his makeup. The makeup artist paused, before saying: “Oh no. Not in this climate. Time’s Up. Me Too. If he wants his makeup done, he needs to come here.” There was no need for further discussion, and clearly, a greater appreciation of the issue than previously experienced.

Hurd encouraged women in the media industry to similarly band together and support each other. “We’ve always been here. We’ve always had voices. We are strong. Women are really strong. But we needed the other side to understand that their actions will now be seen, called out, and prosecuted. And we will not let that stand anymore.”

She also stressed that the Times Up movement is not just about protecting actors, it’s “a Legal Defense Fund for all of us” and can provide assistance to those who have experienced harassment or related retaliation in the workplace.

“Empowerment, outreach, and education are the things that can galvanize all of us, and really give us the tools and the strength to continue our agenda. If we all know this, if we all understand that you’re not alone, you have a community of sisters behind you, then this movement can really make unbelievable changes.”

On inclusivity: Leveling the playing field

In the entertainment industry, there has historically been a lack of female empowered positions behind the camera. Recently, as a result of Times Up, Hurd has noticed an increase in the number of female producers being hired, and more people of color being hired for pilots. She encourages those who are in a position to do so, to insist on an inclusion rider (and suggested 50:40:10, spread across women, women of color, and women with disabilities). “We’re not trying to exclude men. We just want to get a more even playing field. What would be awesome is for men to help as well: send the elevator down, open the door, disclose how much they’re making for the same amount of work as female colleagues. We all should be compensated fairly for our work.”

Marchese agreed that anyone in a leadership or management position in the media industry should be on the lookout for opportunities to “send the elevator back up,” such as bringing more junior colleagues along to events and meetings, especially women and minorities.

Emmerich emphasized that equality is the goal. “We want to include men and male allies and welcome them into the conversation, instead of alienating people.”

Addressing the gender pay gap: Knowledge is power

Recent revelations confirmed there is a significant gender pay gap in many positions across multiple industries. A few factors seem to have contributed to this. Some women self-select out of senior roles, others don’t negotiate as effectively (if at all), but in many cases, a lack of transparency is a major barrier.

If women are to put themselves in the best position for a raise, all of the panelists recommended that they start to get comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations and try to find out what salary ranges other people are on.

Hurd commented: “One of the big things in my industry is transparency. Transparency is so key. I don’t know why we don’t want to talk about what we make, but we really should. Because we don’t know what pool we’re swimming in. We have no idea if there’s a bigger number out there we could be making. If there is any way you can get transparency from others and discuss salaries so you can be empowered when you go into that room, do it. There’s no shame—and in fact, there should be encouragement—that we should ask for more. You may hear ‘no’ as the answer, but you may also get ‘yes.’ We have to ask. If we don’t ask, we’re remaining in a sub-category of pay.”

Emmerich confirmed that women in the media industry are getting more comfortable speaking about money and benefits, and learning how to ask for them respectfully. Before going into a salary negotiation, she recommends employees:

  • Do the research and try to obtain a marketplace industry comparison.
  • Get comfortable talking to friends about money, titles and salary ranges, in order to understand where their own position lies.
  • Consider what else matters besides money, and don’t be afraid to ask for what may seem like random or innovative things (e.g. benefits such as egg freezing and IVF, additional time off, vacation days, flexibility to work from home, adjusted working hours, a change in role or responsibilities etc.).
  • Buy a book or take a course about negotiation, as there are plenty of options out there.

Moving forward

It’s still early days, but the cultural and industry changes discussed during this SMWNYC session are promising. Times Up is a new grassroots movement and it’s clear that everyone is invited to participate. Also, social media continues to play a vital role in bringing people closer together and helping them to coordinate the fight for a more level playing field across all industries.

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