Pay Equity Summit: Tema L. Staig’s Opening Speech

Manon De Reeper

Opening speech by Tema L. Staig, Executive Director – moderator of the Pay Equity Summit panels on September 29th, 2018.

Photo by Ashly Covington.

Good morning!  Before we begin, I’d like to thank the Women In Media Board, our members, volunteers, and our Pay Equity Summit Partners and their staff.  I would also like to thank our Vodka sponsor, Ving.  Stick around for the cocktail networking party after the panels and town hall.  Two words. Moscow Mule.

Women In Media encourages gender balance in film and entertainment industries by providing networking, professional development, and advocacy for above and below the line women and the people who love making movies with them.

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Well, that was an easy week!  How are we all holding up?  I know for me, it’s been exhausting, emotional, and at some times I was so angry that I wanted to throw things at the television.

It was a week that hit home that women are still not respected by many in our country.  But it was also a week that proved that those who attempt to diminish us are dinosaurs.  And we all know what happened to the dinosaurs.

We are at a remarkable time when women are speaking up and finally being believed.  Not just about sexual assault, which is at best exasperating that it’s taken so long, but also about our working conditions and the fairness of our pay and processes stacked against us.  There are policies and contracts which affect our daily lives and affect our well being as well as the well being of our families that do not reflect our talent, our experience, or our value in the workforce.

This is a systemic problem, and we see it in many of those who are supposed to have our backs, represent us, and act honorably.  From our highest court to our employers, people who have power to do the right thing need to step up and be heroes.

This week, it was ordinary citizens – both men and women like you and me who made the difference.  And that is something to feel good about.  We made some small progress in the delay of an accused molester’s ascension to a really choice job.  For any of you who have seen men who were less qualified than you fail upward or get paid substantially more than you, this was a day of reckoning and a victory.  No matter what happens.

BTW, the names of the women who button holed swing voter Senator Jeff Flake in the elevator are Ana Maria Achila and Maria Gallagher.  If any of you know them, I want to take them out for a fancy dinner.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time studying, and living these issues for my entire working life. I’ve been thinking about them in a more defined way after talking with the women of local 871 over the last few months.  I confess that I’m still struggling to wrap my head around how we got here.  But I also have a hard time wrapping my head around a lot of things these days.

What is it about our county that encourages such inequality?  America attaches a monetary value to pretty much every thing, whether it’s an item of clothing, a service, or the work we do. For years, we’ve heard excuses, any excuse as to why women are paid less than our male counterparts.  We lack the training, or he has a family to feed, he’s been in the business for longer, he had an agent who fought for him (meanwhile they share the same agent), or you name it.  In the end, it’s really just BS.

The numbers don’t lie – we are just not valued the same way men in similar roles are. We are graduating at the same rates.  We are making low budget indie films at the same rates.  The disconnect comes when we get to the studio and bigger budget indies.

Everyday we see billboards with 3 or 4 men and one woman.  It tells us that there can be only one, and that 52% of the population isn’t worth hearing or seeing. The token woman is generally there to reflect how amazing the male protagonist is.  And even then, don’t take up too much space.  When you are told this every day, in not so subtle ways, you begin to believe it.

I’m asking everyone in this room to do some soul searching today as we embark on this journey.  We were all brought up in a system that tells us that women have less value than men.  That normalizes rape in it’s stories.  That has women with less agency until we begin to believe that women are not as capable or worthy as men.  I ask you to challenge yourself and others when you feel that tug, that easy mindset that we all fall into.  I include myself in that challenge.

Today we will be discussing some of the granular issues facing women, but also thinking creatively about solutions.  As we spend time together, I hope that you will write down some ideas and questions for the Q and A’s as well as our town hall.  We want to hear from all genders today.  And please, do tweet and follow us at at WomenNMedia, Hashtag ReelEquity, and Hashtag  HireTheseWomen .

The very definition of a hero is a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities.  Finding empathy and going to bat for someone makes you a super hero.

Doing the right thing, speaking up for yourself and others sends a powerful message.  Arming ones self with data and facts makes your cause undeniable.

And so, I would like to kick off our day with a quote from our first African American Congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair”.

Thank you for being part of this important summit!

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