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Pay Equity Summit explores gender and compensation in Hollywood

Pay Equity Summit explores gender and compensation in Hollywood
Tema L. Staig, executive director of Women in Media, moderates a panel at the Pay Equity Summit in Burbank on Saturday. (Ashly Covington)

The compensation of women working in Hollywood, especially as below-the-line crew members, took center stage Saturday during a series of industry panels that brought together members of various guilds and advocacy groups.

Speakers at the Pay Equity Summit held at the IATSE Local 80 building in Burbank argued that women working in entertainment are routinely paid less than men working similar jobs. As moderator Tema L. Staig, executive director of Women in Media, put it, they have been “brought up in a system where women are less valued than men.”

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The wide-ranging event, which drew about 200 attendees, was billed as a “first step” toward addressing the issue and explored possible tactics to force the subject into the mind-sets of Hollywood’s top executives.

“They don’t take you seriously unless they feel there’s a liability,” said Leslie Simon, business representative for IATSE Local 871, which represents script supervisors, teleprompter operators, production coordinators and other crafts.

The guild published a study this year arguing that female-dominated crafts are often paid less than male-dominated jobs of similar responsibility level. The study equated female-dominated jobs such as script supervisors with male-dominated jobs such as assistant directors.

Some panelists advocated for including more men in their cause.

“We believe male allies are important to this,” said Alison Emilio, director of ReFrame, a joint initiative of the Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles focusing on gender equity and advancing female filmmakers in movies, TV and other media.

She also said that agents should also play a larger role in the conversation because they act as gatekeepers to a wide variety of Hollywood talent.

The discussions included the difficulties that some below-the-line crew members face when trying to negotiate higher pay.

“By the time you get hired, the budget is already set,” said Marisa Shipley, an art department coordinator who has worked on Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie.”

She said that productions will sometimes give crew members more time off in a gesture of compromise, but that women should work toward more lasting and systemic changes in compensation practices.

Some panelists also argued that achieving pay equity is challenging because each below-the-line job is different, which makes compensation comparisons tricky.

The event included representatives from various advocacy groups, such as Time’s Up Entertainment, a Hollywood-focused branch of the Time’s Up movement formed in the wake of the industry’s sexual harassment scandals, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The hiring of more female directors for movie and TV projects is a key first step in ensuring that more women are hired in crew positions, said Melissa Goodman, director of advocacy at ACLU of Southern California.

“I don’t believe in trickle-down economics, but I do believe in trickle-down gender equity.”

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