Closing The Gap

After #MeToo, women in entertainment still struggle to find their voice

Caroline Fairchild, Contributor
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In January, as hundreds of actresses attending the Golden Globes donned all-black apparel and Time's Up pins, executive assistant Paris Herbert-Taylor watched the spectacle from SoHo House, a club in West Hollywood.

A 30-year-old Australian who moved to Los Angeles in 2017 to pursue her entertainment career, Herbert-Taylor previously worked in events in Toronto. The executive assistant may not have been invited to the Golden Globes, but as she listened to the speeches from nearby, the stories of abuse and discrimination shared by celebrities sounded eerily familiar.

"Everyone was cheering and crying. Everyone felt a collectively relief that we were fighting for equality. But if you are an actor and have a following, you are somewhat protected," she said. "If you are an assistant or a production assistant, you may not have that same safety net in terms of the exposure if you speak out."

The #MeToo and Time's Up movements put a spotlight on widespread discrimination and harassment among A-list professionals in entertainment. Yet a LinkedIn/CNBC survey of more than 1,000 members in entertainment, a representative sample of workers across gender, age and location, suggests that the impact of the protests extends far beyond Hollywood's elite. Additional interviews and testimonials collected from more than 100 talent managers, executive assistants, editors and more across the country demonstrate that many with smaller platforms, earning smaller paychecks, are still hesitant to tell their stories of discrimination or harassment.

"Why would any of us? What is the incentive?" questioned LA-based Talent Manager T Keaton-Woods. "How are we incentivized to talk about how we are wronged on set and how production companies have devalued us? None of us are trying to get rich and famous. We just love making movies."

As we approach the one-year anniversary of when Time's Up first began this January, entertainment workers say we still have a long way to go.

'You feel trapped'

Early on in her career, Denver-based producer Shawna Schultz vividly remembers getting verbally harassed by a lighting specialist, or a gaffer, who worked with her on set. He made vulgar comments about her appearance, which made her feel uncomfortable at work. Working as a production assistant, Schultz didn't say anything to the director for fear that he might think less of her.

After a late night working on set, a cast member suggested the gaffer in question walk Schultz to her car.

"I didn't want to say that I was way more afraid of him than anything else I could encounter in the dark," said Schultz, who is now 30. "You feel very trapped."

Shawna Schultz working the Stedicam in Denver in 2012
Photo courtesy of LinkedIn

Some 35 percent of women and 23 percent of men surveyed by LinkedIn said they witnessed gender discrimination in the workplace. Despite the prevalence of bad behavior, 63 percent of men and 76 percent of women believe that their female coworkers would feel uncomfortable reporting incidents as well. Compared to other male-dominated industries, these numbers are worse: Only 28 percent of women and 16 percent of men working in finance have witnessed the same behavior, according to a LinkedIn survey conducted in June.

Unlike working in an office environment, a majority of entertainment work is project-based. Each production brings together a unique group of people and once filming wraps up, everyone goes on to other projects. That makes creating universal guidelines on reporting harassment and discrimination challenging, said Cristy Coors Beasley, a talent manager working in Los Angeles.

"With Hollywood, there is not a central HR department," she said. "There is so much gray area on what is appropriate work behavior."

The talent manager started her career in 2006 with a brief stint at The Weinstein Company. Its namesake, Harvey Weinstein, is in many ways responsible for launching the Time's Up movement after dozens of women came forward accusing him of harassment and discrimination. He is now facing criminal charges for sexual assault.

Coors Beasley, then an aspiring producer, didn't even last a year at The Weinstein Company and she said the chaos she experienced on the production side drove her to talent management. Similarly, Schultz's early experiences of harassment in the industry encouraged her not to pursue a traditional career in Hollywood. She now owns her own seven-person production company in Denver.

Only 4 percent of top film directors are female and the C-suites of major production houses are less than 18 percent women, according to research conducted by the University of Southern California's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. While there are many contributing factors fueling these low numbers — including a shortage of mentorship opportunities for women and the prevalence of male leaders currently in the industry — the hesitancy of women like Schultz and Coors Beasley to climb the traditional corporate ranks plays a role as well.

Madeline DiNonno speaking at a conference
Photo courtesy of LinkedIn

"Women are graduating from film schools at a 50 percent rate," shares Madeline DiNonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. "The leaky pipeline starts after they graduate. That is where men get into the system and women just don't."

'Just being naive'

T Keaton-Woods, a talent manager in her mid-30s, has had many jobs across entertainment, but said dealing with bias is one of the only constants throughout her career. As a black woman trying to make her way through the industry, Keaton-Woods said she has faced getting paid less than her male peers on set, endured inappropriate comments from men and even, at times, had items thrown at her in the middle of production. This behavior, she claims, was motivated by both her race and gender.

Today, she works for The 5 Group, a talent-management company based in Los Angeles. The University of Rochester graduate manages eight clients working on a variety of different projects. If it wasn't for Andy Anderson, who leads The 5 Group, taking her under his wing, Keaton-Woods doubts that she would have found herself with the career that she now manages today.

"I have a white-male beard and I said that in our first meeting," she said, semi-joking about how Anderson's gender and skin color have helped her. "If you think there isn't systemic patriarchy and racism in entertainment, you are just being naive."

Beyond discrimination and harassment, survey respondents told LinkedIn that there are systemic problems like Keaton-Woods faced that make it challenging for women to succeed. When asked what the biggest obstacle is preventing women in entertainment from advancing in their careers, a majority of LinkedIn members surveyed said it's an unsupportive or biased corporate culture.

Kirsten Schaffer, the executive director of Women In Film, discovered a similar finding in research conducted alongside the University of Southern California. That's in part why Women In Film developed ReFrame, a formal action plan to further gender parity in the industry.

"To ensure culture change, we developed a conscious inclusion training program that works to mitigate bias," Schaffer explained. "The training utilizes brain science to explain why humans behave the way we do and then provides ways to change that behavior that are relatively easy."

'Hitting the red button'

While not everyone has access to programs like ReFrame, both men and women agree there will be both long- and short-term change in the entertainment industry after the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. Despite the obstacles they faced in their career, many women also told LinkedIn that they are seeing positive changes that leave them optimistic about what the future of their careers will hold.

Coors Beasley, after years of neglecting production work, is back on a few projects. Citing expansive anti-sexual harassment guidelines adopted widely by The Producers Guild of America in January, the talent manager said she has seen small changes in behavior that are encouraging.

"There are so many groups of women who have stepped up to support each other," she said. "The silence is what empowered all this bad behavior for so long. It is important to be visible and to be heard."

Momentum around bringing more women into positions of power seems to be having an impact as well. Out of the nearly 200 male leaders working in entertainment who lost their jobs after allegations of sexual harassment, nearly half have been replaced by women, according to a recent analysis by The New York Times. Many projects have also instituted inclusion riders, which require that a certain percentage of a film's cast and crew must come from a diverse background.

Like most of the world, LA-based executive assistant Herbert-Taylor first heard about inclusion riders from actress Frances McDormand's now-famous Academy Awards acceptance speech in March. But just as the stories shared in speeches at the Golden Globes felt both close and far away, she understands that it might take some time before change trickles down to her level.

Paris Herbert-Taylor recently working in Los Angeles
Photo courtesy of LinkedIn

In the past year, she's watched as a friend of hers, a female director in her mid-30s, has started to get more calls for projects. She's seen her male peers be more careful about the comments they make on set.

Are these the small signs of a real revolution ahead?

"The entertainment industry is like a machine that has momentum," said Herbert-Taylor. "Like any machine with momentum, the first step is hitting the red button. It just takes a while for all the cogs to slow down."

Join the discussion on LinkedIn with #ClosingTheGap

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

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