Fox studio chief Stacey Snider had one message for the men in the entertainment business: Experience some discomfort. It’s good for business.
Snider explained that as a woman coming up in the film industry, “I’ve spent my entire career feeling somewhat uncomfortable,” she said, noting she’d often be the lone woman at the table or at the company retreat where “everyone can’t wait for you to leave and for you to go to your hotel room.”
But that discomfort also helped her learn and grow in ways that she said made her a better film executive. Having more women at the table might mean there’s conversations around raising children or complimenting another woman’s footwear, Snider said, and while that might make some men uncomfortable, “it’s good business for them to suffer a little bit of discomfort for the diversity of ideas and different perspectives that you get.”
Snider was among a panel of industry heavyweights on Wednesday that shared the work they’re doing to help improve opportunities for women and people of color at Variety’s inaugural Path to Parity women’s summit. The others participating were Macro founder and CEO Charles D. King; Jody Gerson, chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing; producer Brian Grazer; and former studio executive and producer Nina Jacobson. Variety co-editor-in-chief Claudia Eller moderated the panel.
Gerson, the highest-ranking woman in the music industry, said one the first things that needs to happen for better inclusion of women is to listen. She rattled off a list of statistics about the music industry that showed how steep of a climb it will be to reach parity for women.
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“There’s a big difference between what our music looks like and what our executives look like,” Gerson said.
Grazer, who co-founded Imagine Entertainment with director Ron Howard, said he purposely surrounded himself with women, praising what he called clearer thinking by female leaders who he said better understand process.
Grazer recalled how one male executive blew up and unleased an expletive-laden tirade when he learned a competing studio would be releasing a movie on the same date they wanted to release “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the 2000 holiday film starring Jim Carrey. “I realized men are way, way more emotional,” Grazer said. “… I just thought, I don’t really want to work that way.”
Jacobson, who worked as a studio executive before eventually becoming a producer, said she remembers early in her career advice given to her by a male executive who thought he was being helpful when he told her: “You just have to know, you can’t be a kickass mom and a kickass executive. You’ll have to choose one or the other,” Jacobson said. “He felt he was giving me good advice. He wouldn’t say that to a man… I think he still saw that as mentoring, not as discrimination. I recognized it as bulls—, but that’s a little bit par for the course.”
King, who transitioned from a partner at WME to founding his own production company in 2015, said the mission of Macro has been to elevate the voices of those who are underrepresented and telling stories with universal themes. He said his company is largely run by women in an effort to lead by example.
“I think we can really move the needle forward when we can coalition-build together,” he said. Moreover, diversity in film and television just “makes good business sense.”
Path to Parity also focused on the legal landscape, with a panel earlier in the day featuring entertainment lawyers who have navigated the #MeToo era and seen the reaction by employers and HR departments to ferret out sexual harassment and misconduct. The attorneys were Patti Felker, Gloria Allred, Melanie Cook, Rick Genow, and Nina Shaw.
“It’s only moderately better,” Felker said, reflecting on workplace changes in the wake of the elevation of the #MeToo movement.
Genow echoed that, saying, “HR departments are taking (sexual harassment) much more seriously.”
Shaw, a member of the Time’s Up organization, which arose as an effort by Hollywood women to broaden the reach of their efforts to include all women, touted the mission of the organization’s newly formed legal defense, launched few months ago.
Created to help women of all income levels and backgrounds, the legal defense fund operates on a straightforward premise. “You should be able to go to your job and do your work without harm. It’s as simple as that,” Shaw said.
Allred, a high-profile women’s right activist and attorney, sparked debate over the use of confidential settlements, saying she reserves the use of such agreements for her clients who wish to remain private rather than speak out publicly.
“Of course the press doesn’t like it,” Allred said. “That is their job. My job is to support my client and what she wants and there are really many that would like to have their privacy.”
Shaw pushed back, saying that transparency is important because the spotlight can help reveal broader problems. “It’s when you shine a bright light on something you find the commonality of the problem,” she said.
Allred and others said there’s still plenty of resistance when employers are met with claims of sexual harassment, including an often-used excuse that such claims are tantamount to extortion.
“It’s not extortion,” Allred said. “What we do is assert legal claims, and we give the evidence for those legal claims.”
On the issue of pay disparities, Felker said her efforts to negotiate on behalf of her clients are mere band-aids in the broader problem. A star like George Clooney, for instance, will fetch a big salary while women and minorities struggle to earn the same.
“The problem isn’t that George Clooney doesn’t deserve what he gets,” she said. It’s that “there are not enough roles for women and minorities that can give them a stature equal to George Clooney.”
Attendees of Variety’s conference also heard from the newly elected board president of Women in Film, Amy Baer, who pledged to create a sense of community for women in the industry, noting that mentorship will be key in helping advance women.
Later, in a discussion with producer Paul Feig, the champion of female-led films like “Bridesmaids” and “Spy,” said that films like his have helped dispel the old notions of what sells at the multiplex.